Users over at the Tesla Motors Club forum recently brought up the possibility of the Tesla Model S being able to detect alignment issues using only the existing set of sensors. Leveraging onboard sensors — including those included with the autopilot suite — TMC members theorize that it is plausible that the car should be able to determine if there are alignment issues or not.
On the surface, the possibility might seem like a stretch, but considering the existence of onboard Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), energy management for each wheel, big data–style data logging at granular levels bundled with the tireless ingenuity that is quickly becoming synonymous with Tesla Motors, and the sky is the limit in terms of what could be achieved.
In addition to the onboard sensors, Teslas are able to leverage the power of the cloud — also known as fleet learning — to self-diagnose alignment issues. For instance, if 1,000 Tesla Model S drivers have been over a specific patch of freeway in the last month but your Model S tracks on the road differently, this could indicate a mechanical defect or alignment issue. Just one more piece of data that can be leveraged against the problem.
What Can Be Detected?
There’s no doubt that all this cool tech makes driving more exciting with less effort, but what can we reasonably expect those sensors to be able to detect when it comes to alignment?
Pulling — with control over the steering hardware coupled with cameras and other sensors that are able to read the state of the road, the car should be able to intelligently deduce if the setup of the steering hardware is causing the car to pull to one direction or another. This is a logical extension and likely the easiest alignment condition to detect.
Low Tire Pressure — in addition to the onboard TPMS system, the comprehensive suite of sensors on the Model S could provide supporting evidence of low tire pressure. This is typically indicated by more drag from the impacted tire, which would require more energy to drive and also contribute to pulling the steering off-center.
Toe In / Toe Out — Similarly to the car pulling in one direction or the other, too much toe in or toe out — which is the measurement of how much the front of the tires, when looked at from above, point towards each other (toe in) or point away from each other (toe out) — would require more energy to be expended but without impacting the direction of travel. A car with the tires pointed slightly inward would require just a bit more energy to travel forward than a properly aligned car. Just the energy reading alone would likely not be sufficient to accurately diagnose, but combined with steering data and supported by logs from around the car, the picture becomes more clear.
Other issues play into how a vehicle handles and how the tires wear — like balancing, tire condition, and driver habits like doing donuts in the parking lot after work… — but the case for a smarter, self-diagnosing car is compelling. Having said that, it sure seems like Tesla is more focused on developing and delivering the world’s first autonomous car than the world’s first self-diagnosing car, but delivering one may just enable the other in the end.
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