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Autonomous Vehicles

Published on May 30th, 2016 | by Matt Pressman


Tesla CTO JB Straubel Hints At Upcoming Autonomous Driving & Battery Breakthroughs

May 30th, 2016 by  

Originally published on EV Annex.

Last week, Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA) Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer JB Straubel was a keynote speaker at the International Transport Forum in Leipzig, Germany during an Open Ministerial Session titled, “Accelerating the transition: Innovation for greener and more inclusive transport.” Straubel spoke at the session and received some challenging questions afterwards. He addressed standards for both electric vehicle charging and autonomous driving but focused mostly on “three main innovation forcing trends” which he defined as electric propulsion technology, environmental pressure, and autonomous technology.

Straubel was extremely confident about the future for Tesla and electric vehicles (EVs) as he predicted: “All ground vehicles are going to migrate towards electric.” And when discussing EV batteries, Straubel explained: “much better batteries are possible” as he’s seeing both “chemistry innovation and materials science innovation.” He continued, “We’re seeing performance improvements, not just cost reductions… [as evidenced by] more energy in the same volume of materials.” He also mentioned, “similar improvements happening in power electronics… controls, software and computing. [These] are creating massive improvements in efficiency… and electric motors we’re [also] seeing fairly rapid improvements.”

Regarding autonomous technologies, Straubel proclaimed, “the improvements happening in this space are phenomenal. The improvements in this space we can see in months, not years.” He continued explaining that vehicle autonomy is, “ultimately inevitable… the trends here are irreversible, we’re not going to see them slow down or stop, and, full autonomy will be ultimately will be achievable from a hardware capability point of view much sooner than most people expect – in a matter of years, not decades.”

When discussing legacy automakers, Straubel noted that, “The nature of a lot of the technology of these new problems is not the same as the nature of the technology that was addressed in many cases by large OEMs… large car companies or truck companies are not focused on software, not focused on sensors or batteries.” In this statement, Straubel really emphasizes a key differentiating factor between the legacy OEM’s and Tesla Motors. This, in a nutshell, explains a critical advantage that Tesla has versus the older internal combustion engine automakers.

When questioned about the Tesla Model 3 production ramp, Straubel notes, “It’s a wonderful problem to have… [as we have] more demand – we can put our focus on production ramp-up, supplier ramp up. This is a challenge – not to understate that – but it’s a very high-class problem for us to have. We do believe we can accelerate this – we’ve had close meetings with all our key suppliers and with many of our internal production and factory managers and we see a way to nearly double production rate increase and production ramp-up.”

Straubel displayed great enthusiasm and confidence relative to Tesla’s future. From his rhetoric it’s likely (albeit hypothetical) that Tesla may have some breakthroughs in both autonomous technology and battery technology which may soon be revealed. If not, he seems very convinced that they’re fast-approaching. In any event, it’s exciting to see Straubel so passionate about the bright future that lay ahead for Tesla Motors.

Reprinted with permission.

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About the Author

is all about Tesla. He’s a TSLA investor, pre-ordered the Model 3, and loves driving the family's Model S and Model X company cars. As co-founder of EVANNEX, a family business specializing in aftermarket Tesla accessories, he’s served as a contributor/editor of Electric Vehicle University (EVU) and the Owning Model S and Getting Ready for Model 3 books. He writes daily about Tesla and you can follow his work on the EVANNEX blog.

  • omar

    The amazing more is that this improvment in battery tech can be instaled to the car without changing anything else, it can be even installed to older Tesla car to get their range boost.

  • neroden

    “, full autonomy will be ultimately will be achievable from a hardware
    capability point of view much sooner than most people expect – in a
    matter of years, not decades.””

    Very cagey statement there, since the impossible and unsolvable parts of full autonomy are 100% *software* problems. Bluntly I believe we have the hardware now. I suspect we will not have the software to handle all the corner cases in my *lifetime* (though we’ll do the easy cases like expressways pretty quickly).

    • Carl Raymond S

      So if the charging stations are delineated with highway quality markings, it means that 97% of the journey can be driverless – the bit between on ramp and off ramp. The truck driver’s role is reduced to picking up the goods and waving his truck goodbye, and at the other end (a different local resident driver), collecting a laden truck from the depot and delivering the goods. I feel confident of living to see that.

  • JamesWimberley

    The one other large international company that is similarly fully committed to electric vehicles is BYD. It faces a very different situation in that its large home market requires cheap-and-cheerful basic cars, and there are a host of domestic-only rivals. This makes it very difficult for BYD to match Tesla on quality and innovation in OECD markets. Still, it would be reasonable to assume that in terms of build quality and driving experience, Chinese carmakers will follow their Japanese and Korean predecessors and catch up. In batteries, this is an Asian industry already. Tesla has no long-term advantage there. Software, sensors, computer chips, yes.

    The other large difference is that BYD is a serious player in commercial vehicles, viz. buses and trucks. Here it doesn’t seem to have a serious non-Chinese rival at all. Proterra is a minnow.

    • Radical Ignorant

      Batteries are Tesla, cells are from Panasonic. However details are obscure. Maybe putting battery together is not so complicated or maybe it is. I mean efficiently.
      But Tesla is investing in cell technology as well. So maybe it’s not all Panasonic IP. We won’t know that for quite some time.

    • Electrifying even a small percentage of the Chinese commercial vehicles market should catapult BYD into a position at the front of the [battery] pack, more so when added to the mandated production of thousands of cheap and not-so-cheerful basic cars.

    • Brunel

      Cheap batteries are good for cheap vehicles as well as costly vehicles.

      Tesla has no long-term advantage? That is like saying James Dyson has no long-term advantage.

      Dyson keeps innovating and so does Tesla.

    • neroden

      In terms of competition in commercial vehicles, New Flyer is making perfectly good electric buses — and they’re an established bus supplier who all the agencies are used to ordering from, which gives them an advantage. But they don’t do trucks (they’re *strictly* a busmaker).

  • Jenny Sommer

    I read that full autonomy is still not possible with current hardware (it confirms what I hear from developers).
    Batteries will get there some day, the potential is there yet there is no imminent breakthrough (which is fine as long as the learning curve doesn’t slow down).
    Nothing new. Not surprised he likes to talk bullish about his product 😉

    • Radical Ignorant

      By current hardware you mean that installed on cars? Yes, I agree. But if you mean with currently accessible hardware that’s not true. Cameras are cheap. All you could need are cameras, as all you need to drive a car are your eyes. However it’s rather hard to get processing power cheap enough to analyze all the data. But then it’s progressing so soon. It’s not problem to install enough, it’s just yet too expensive.

      • Jenny Sommer

        I know someone implementing that stuff working with mobileye and Nvidia. There is a huge gap between things they will te you and what they can really do now with current hardware.
        Cost is obviously a problem too, software also.
        6-8 years minimum till you can buy fully autonomous cars.

        • nakedChimp

          And that’s about what Straubl (or better the article that quoted him) was saying, or how I did understand it.

        • Philip W

          So what is the missing part? Processing power? Hardware price? Sensor quality?

      • Brunel

        We could also paint STOP signs on the roads but then we would need to legalize undercar lighting to read such painted stop signs.

        • Bob_Wallace

          If we need more info we can install RFID units in roads at critical points.

          • Brunel

            What kind of info.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Stop ahead (two/four way). Speed zone change. Road work – detour.

  • Mike Shurtleff

    Tesla $190/kWh production cost for battery packs, per Elon Musk.
    They’re selling 6.4kWh Powerwall for $3,000.00. $3,000/6.4kWh = $468.75/kWh.
    Hell of a profit margin and they can’t make enough of them right now.
    OEMs in Australia are installing for double that.
    Hell of a profit margin …again …and they can’t get enough of them.

    Straubel should be optimistic. All they have to do is increase production as margins come down. They already have low enough production cost to completely explode the market …and they haven’t even seen economies of production from the giga-factory. Wow!

    Then there is the battery improvements Straubel is talking about. To my un-expert eye it looks the same as what he is saying. A lot of very real improvements coming to battery tech from the labs. Nice to have him confirm. Double Wow!

    Amazing, simply amazing.

    • Slight correction: It was Tesla’s head of investor relations who said the battery packs were at $190/kWh.

      But, yeah, awesome, eh?

      • Illuminati

        And with the Gigafactory at 100% the cost will be … ?

    • Weniger_ist_mehr

      “Amazing, simply amazing.”

      In short it’s the same what I thought about the video, I really hope so too, that renewable tech is improving at a high pace. Some year ago (~2005), I wished to live in the 50s or 60s to see the massive improvement in aviation and I was somewhat bored but now it’s so inspiring to see all this improvement and effort towards a more sophisticated and cleaner technology.

    • Andy

      not quite correct as the Powerwall includes the inverter, charger and electronic as well. It’s not just the pure battery…

      • vensonata .

        Does not include inverter! Too bad.

    • Brunel

      I think you do not know the difference between an EV battery and a grid storage battery.

    • neroden

      I suspect that Tesla has quite a lot of costs related to the Powerpack packaging and control circuitry right now (the cost to turn a battery pack into a Powerpack), so the profit margin probably isn’t that great *yet*. But when economies of scale kick in (which they will for this stuff), Tesla will find themselves with either a huge profit margin, or the ability to lower the price. Or both!

    • Freddy D

      Indeed great that they have a decent margin in those. As gross profit margins go, that’s actually adequate rather than spectacular, but what really sweetens the situation is their cost reduction plans. It costs s lot to run an organization and do R&D, which tesla does super well. They will need every penny of that gross profit margin.

  • vensonata .

    Energy density is very closely related to price. Double the energy in the same size package and unless it requires exotic materials, a corresponding drop in price happens. Argonne labs have that goal, with 5 times greater density and fivefold reduction in price…in 5 years. They see the intrinsic relationship.

    • Hmm, don’t remember that Argonne goal. We write about that? 😀

      • vensonata .

        Remember that that only results in 400 wh/kg and $100 kwh. Tesla is at 240 wh/kg now and $180 kwh. So the 5 fold number is an older base line.

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