Is a Tesla a car with a computer or a computer that’s also a car? The difference may only be one of semantics, but there is no denying that the company has some of the best technology solutions around when it comes to integrating digital technology into the vehicles it builds. Some of those solutions border on the goofy, like the Easter eggs that show up from time to time in Tesla’s software updates. Others can make driving safer than it has ever been, protecting the people inside from what those in the insurance industry like to call “death or dismemberment.”
Tesla Model X Tows Semi Truck
The Tesla buzz on the internet is all about a Tesla Model X that helped tow an 18-wheeler up an incline during a snowstorm in North Carolina last week. It’s hard to believe, but there are some of you out there who have never driven in snow. It’s not that hard, actually. You simply cut your speed in half and drive using nothing but your fingertips and toes. But snow on top of ice is a whole ‘nother thing. There’s a reason why Zamboni racing never hit the big time. Ice changes everything.
That semi you see in the video is proof that driving on ice can be a challenge to any vehicle, now matter how large or how many wheels it has. Why Model X owner Kyle Conner decided to hitch his car to the truck and give it a helping hand is unclear, but it certainly made for some remarkable footage. After posting the video on Facebook, he told Jalopnik he put his car into Slip Start mode, which is designed to let the computer decide how much torque to deliver to the front and rear wheels based on how much traction is available at each end of the car.
The video is way cool, but the real message here is something you don’t see. Someday in the not too distant future, a Tesla Semi may find itself in exactly the same situation. When it does, it will be able to take advantage of traction control and torque vectoring in a way that no current truck can do and extricate itself from a tricky situation like this without outside assistance.
Rain-Sensing Wipers Via AI
You may not spend your days contemplating the wonders of windshield wipers, but people like Elon Musk do. Getting them to come on when needed, shut off when not, and adjust their speed according to how much rain is falling is tricky business. Those of you who drive cars that allow you to vary the speed of the wipers from “really, really slow” to “quite fast, actually” may find yourself fiddling with the controls constantly. It can be a maddening distraction.
Other manufacturers have tried various automatic systems that involve complex sensors, but Tesla thinks it has a better way. As part of its latest firmware update, it has incorporated an artificial intelligence algorithm that does all the thinking for you. One less thing for you to worry about while driving. [Editor’s note: Having a Tesla Model S with automatic windshield wipers for nearly a year (as part of an electric shuttle startup), I can say that they already worked way better than I expected. I’d say that I only personally messed with the wipers maybe 20% of the times they were used. Generally, the car turned them on and off as seemed best. The fact that they are getting even better now via AI sort of blows my mind.]
Using a neural net to detect rain using cameras (no dedicated rain or sun sensors). Computers are very patient. https://t.co/YM0tQ6vLOV
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 3, 2018
Tesla Route Planner Available Online
All Teslas have a route planner available on their center-mounted touchscreen, but what it you want to plan a trip in advance? Drivers can now access the route planner on the internet from the comfort of their living room instead of sitting in the car while it is parked in the garage. [Editor’s note: Woohoo! This is a huge help!] Plug in where you are and where you want to go and the software will show you the best route to choose in order to make the best use of Supercharger locations along the way. It knows the difference in range between a Model S, a Model X, and a Model 3, so the charging suggestions may change depending on what car you are driving.
Putting the software on the internet has a secondary benefit. It allows non-Tesla owners to see that getting from Point A to Point B may actually be possible in an electric car without any undue stress or drama. That could erase some of those lingering range anxiety fears and help gives sales a boost. Clever, those Tesla people.