Tesla Takes Safety To The Next Level With New Patents & New Internal Crash Lab

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Tesla Patents New “Crash Can” Structures In Never-Ending Push To Improve Safety

Tesla is looking for new ways to improve the crash structure with more robust “crash can” designs, according to a patent granted to the company this week. As defined in the patent, the crash can is the geometric structure of a vehicle designed to crumple in the event of a crash. Tesla defines a crash can as containing the following characteristics:

  • a multi-cell structure comprising:
  • at least four hollow cuboids, each defined by four walls;
  • wherein the four walls of each hollow cuboid meet at 90 degree angles and at least two of the cuboids share a wall.

The more effectively the crash can structure is able to absorb the energy of the incoming vehicle or object without pushing into the passenger compartment, the higher the likelihood of a safe outcome for the vehicle occupants.

In the patent filing, Tesla specifically identified three new crash can structures based on geometric designs and corresponding crumple characteristics. The new designs highlight Tesla’s never-ending push to improve vehicle safety, which is exactly what earned it the IIHS’s Top Safety Pick+ award, among many others.

The designs and accompanying photos of crumple test results highlight the crucial role of the crumple zone in automobile safety. In internal combustion vehicles, the engine transfers all of the energy of the accident directly into the passenger compartment, with very little room up front to absorb the impact of the collision. In an electric vehicle, the engine is gone, replaced by a battery pack and an electric motor or two, which can be placed more carefully for a safety advantage. This difference alone gives Tesla and others in the EV space a significant advantage when it comes to safety.

That brings us back to the crash cans and Tesla’s renewed interest in building a better car. The Model S revolutionized automobile safety, setting a new high bar for safety for sedans that broke the NHTSA’s measurement devices. The Model X that followed capitalized on the low center of mass of the battery and similarly set a new high bar for sport utility vehicles, with the battery anchoring the vehicle to the ground so well that it could not be rolled.

Tesla leverages extensive virtual modeling and crash simulations to improve vehicle safety. Image courtesy Tesla

The Model 3 followed in the footsteps of those that came before, outpacing existing safety standards and raising the bar even further. These new patents seek to build on the world-leading safety results across Tesla’s line of vehicles with improved structural members that are strong and stiff when needed, then cave and crumple predictably in the event of an accident.

The Tesla Crash Lab

The newly published patent for “Advanced thin-walled structures for enhanced crash performance” ties in nicely with the inside look Tesla just shared of the Tesla Crash Lab. The video details Tesla’s process for running vehicle designs through thousands of crash simulations to explore the reaction vehicles will have to a variety of crash scenarios.

This rigorous level of engineering, design, and testing of the materials, designs, and interactions between the various subsystems in the vehicle all boil down to the moment of impact. Whether it be on a sled in the Crash Lab or from a distracted dude running a red light because he dropped the lid of his coffee, that is the moment of truth.

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In that moment, for thousands of Tesla drivers around the world, the cars have pulled through. They have delivered their occupants safely from the crash time and time again. No car is perfect, but Tesla has truly raised the bar when it comes to automotive safety and it is neat to get a peak behind the scenes of the company’s vehicle designs in the form of issued patents and in the Crash Lab video.

Software-Driven Safety

Safety of the vehicle might begin on the drawing boards of engineers in Fremont, and then brought into reality in an autonomous welding machine, bolted together, and tested on a crash sled, but one thing is clear: at Tesla, safety is another example of how much it is a digital company through and through. Each and every vehicle Tesla has built has started with a digital design that is then repeatedly scrutinized, tested, and validated at every level before it ever has a chance of becoming a part of a Tesla vehicle in the real world.

This holds true at the design level, and even more so when it gets into the car. Once manufactured, the digitally designed vehicles are augmented with special abilities, thanks to Tesla’s onboard Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). These systems start with a meticulously curated suite of sensors that work together to let the powerful onboard computers see the world around the vehicle.

Image courtesy: Tesla

Tesla’s software teams take the data and use them to extract meaningful safety triggers that the car can respond to before the human driver even knows anything is happening. The car’s early-warning system is constantly looking at the vehicle ahead (and bouncing radar off the ground under it to see the car ahead of that) to see if it is slowing down while the human driver is still accelerating.

Tesla continues to outpace other OEMs, improving not only on the Active Safety systems that keep occupants safe, but building on the foundation of computer vision technology to develop driver assistance solutions under its Autopilot product. Many accidents are the simple result of driver error. So, it is an exciting prospect to upgrade from a human driver to a system that is capable of seeing two cars ahead, of looking in all directions at once, and of responding to a dangerous situation before a human realizes there is even a problem.

As it stands today, Autopilot is not a fully autonomous driving solution, but it already offers significantly enhanced safety compared to human drivers in a Tesla or otherwise. Statistically, a car driving with Tesla’s Autopilot system engaged is nearly 7 times safer than a human driving the average automobile in the United States today.

Tesla continues to push on all fronts towards a world with fewer and fewer automobile accidents at a pace that other automakers have simply not been able to keep up with. The fact that Tesla was able to build a safer vehicle than every other automotive OEM in history in a mere 15 years, and then do so again, and then again, shows just how much work Tesla has put into safety in that time — and all indicators point to that continuing for the foreseeable future.

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Kyle Field

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.

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