Tesla just shared on YouTube part of the explanation for how it creates the safest vehicles on the road today. Tesla uses two things to engineer its safe vehicles. These are:
- Collect data from the millions of vehicles in its fleet.
- Replicate real-world crash scenarios.
In the video below, Tesla’s engineers demonstrate how they do it. Tesla has its own crash lab, and in the video, they wanted to see what would happen if a large pickup truck hit a Model Y. I’ll do a quick recap below.
The engineer who led the demo, Anders, noted that there was a small overlap, called an off-zone impact. He explained that this was the final piece of validation of what the team believed is a world first. Dan, a Safety Engineer who also spoke in the video, explained that historically, the best way to design a safe car was to use industry-standard crash testing. He described those tests as a few grains of sand used to represent the whole beach — a few tests to represent all accidents, so to speak.
“In reality, the beach is infinitely complex. Every crash is different.”
— James Stephenson (@ICannot_Enough) October 3, 2021
Dan noted that emerging technologies enable new opportunities to look at the real world and design for that. On October 3, 2021, James Stephenson shared something that no one else seemed to notice: Tesla passed its 2,000,000th milestone of cumulative deliveries. Coupled with Q3 delivery numbers, it’s safe to say that Tesla has over two million cars in its fleet.
Although that’s nothing compared to the more than one billion fossil fuel vehicles on the road today and the many that legacy auto continues to push out, what legacy auto nor the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) have is the type of data Tesla has from its fleets.
The data Tesla collects gives the company a way to know exact details of a customer’s driving habits and how this applies to accidents. The data can show the exact seating position, how the steering wheel is positioned, and whether or not a driver is wearing a seatbelt, and much more. Tesla’s team knows exactly when the airbag deployed, to the millisecond.
“We know exactly what our fleet of cars is being exposed to out there. The richness of data we are collecting enables us to develop safety beyond the stars and beyond the ratings and for situations which is simply not picked up by the regulatory rating test step that we and all other car makers are doing.”
The focus of industry-standard crash testing is on direct impact into the door, and Tesla’s team has noticed in the field that it’s more common than not for the impacts to not hit the door.
“Once we found the gap in what the legal testing required and the types of crashes we saw from our fleet data, we decided to use our very detailed simulation models to run impacts in different locations, like this simulation here. And we use this to really tune down to the millimeter and down to the mile per hour the threshold at which you need airbags and you don’t need airbags. We use that to tune the airbags and the seatbelts for optimal safety.”
In essence, Tesla has created a new algorithm for real-world crash testing that has made the NHTSA’s testing outdated, or at least not as good and useful. The algorithm helps the team to identify a particular type of crash and provide the optimum restraint for that situation by looking at and understanding the current sensor set.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 10, 2021
Tesla’s video demonstration showed how the safety team used high-tech cameras and the latest technology to perform real-world crash testing. When that pickup truck hits the Model Y, the system will know exactly what type of impact happened — in just 10 milliseconds of that crash. That’s faster than I typed the first word of this sentence. Upon determining the type of impact, it will then deploy the airbags and restraint to respond in the safest way it can. With the data collected from Tesla’s fleet of millions of vehicles, it can understand real exposure and design its vehicles for that exposure.
“We think over time this will change how you design for vehicle safety. It’s all based on knowledge. I think this is just the beginning of a journey for us. The reason we are doing this is simple. A — we have the ability, and B is because it’s the right thing to do.”