10 Things You May Not Know About Tesla Motors

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Since the introduction of the Tesla Roadster in 2008, fans of performance and green technology alike have flocked to Tesla Motors’ electric cars. Here a few things you may not know about the pricey, innovative rides.


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Although Musk has become synonymous with Tesla Motors as the company’s CEO and product architect, the venture existed before he got involved. Founders Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning started Tesla in 2003 in an attempt to "solve a real problem": dependence on oil. The pair decided to build what Gigaom called a “beautiful, but expensive ‘aspirational’ vehicle” to improve green cars’ image and ease them into the mainstream. The Tesla team spent three years developing the product and seeking new capital. That quest for a cash infusion kicked into overdrive in 2004 when Tesla hit its first major milestone: a driveable Tesla.


That’s where Musk came in. He led the company’s first investment round in 2004 and chaired the company’s board of directors. He also was the controlling investor, personally funding the majority of Series A capital investment with $7.5 million. As Musk became the face of the increasingly popular Tesla, his relationship with Eberhard soured and eventually sparked a legal battle that was settled out of court.


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The company was named in honor of Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), the Serbian inventor and engineer who developed the first modern alternating current (AC) motor. On an early version of the Tesla Motors website, the company leaders stated: “Without Tesla's vision and brilliance, our car wouldn't be possible.” Co-founder Eberhard selected the name after months of struggling for an idea that his then-girlfriend thought sounded appropriate. When the two went to dinner at the Blue Bayou in Disneyland, he suggested Tesla as the company name. She approved, as did Tarpenning, who immediately secured the domain name TeslaMotors.com. The company incorporated on July 1, 2003.


There are several electric vehicles (EVs) on the market today, ranging from the Nissan Leaf to the Mercedes Benz B Class—but Tesla won fans over with its unique blend of power (one gets zero to 60 in 3.1 seconds) and range (up to 270 miles per charge, according to the EPA). The reason: Other manufacturers use specialized, large format lithium ion cells. Tesla’s battery pack is made up of thousands of inexpensive commodity cells that are similar to the ones in your laptop, only more refined. There are over a billion of these cells produced a year for all sorts of industries, which means their design and performance is subject to the fierce competitive pressures that are a signature characteristic of the computer and consumer electronics industries.


Tesla charging station
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Driving an EV can be convenient, but when it’s time to plug in the car, urban apartment dwellers or those that rely on their EVs for long road trips can’t just slip into their garages to recharge. Tesla has tried to sidestep this problem by strategically placing 1332 stations equipped with more than 10,000 superchargers around the world. The cost of using these stations is incorporated into the purchase price of the car, which is convenient. The company offers a map so travelers can find where to recharge.


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They may not be able to refuel at a gas station, but Tesla owners don’t lose much time to oil changes. Only the tires and wiper blades need regular replacement on a Tesla vehicle. The battery and coolants should be checked periodically, but thanks to the clever braking system—the car slows mostly by reversing the electrical motor instead of applying friction (which also charges the battery)—a Tesla won’t need new brake pads anytime soon, if ever. There’s no oil to change, fan belts, air filters, spark plugs, or other parts needed in traditional cars.


The Tesla vehicles are good for more than just the environment; they're also potential lifesavers for drivers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has consistently given the cars high marks when it comes to safety ratings.

In fact, at one point, the Model S achieved the best safety rating of any car in history. How tough was the Tesla? It actually broke one of the machines used for testing.

“Of note, during validation of Model S roof crush protection at an independent commercial facility, the testing machine failed at just above 4 Gs,” the company reported. “While the exact number is uncertain due to Model S breaking the testing machine, what this means is that at least four additional fully loaded Model S vehicles could be placed on top of an owner's car without the roof caving in.” This strength stems from a solid structure and the Model S’s electric drivetrain and low-mounted battery. These components allowed engineers to leave more “sacrificial space” between passengers and an impact and increase overall rigidity.


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Buyers of the top-of-the-line Model S, the P85D, may opt for a battery-and-electronics package called "Ludicrous Mode." The upgrade powers the car from zero to 60 mph in less than 2.3 seconds, zippier than the current figure of 3.1 seconds. The boost comes from a “smart fuse” with its own electronics and a tiny lithium-ion battery. Basically, the mechanism constantly monitors battery output down to the millisecond, allowing the software to run the car’s battery at close to its absolute limit. Price tag: $10,000, plus $3000 for the 90-kWh battery upgrade.

An even speedier option: Tesla's sports car, the Roadster, can make the move from zero to 60 mph in an impressive 1.9 seconds.


Tesla’s mid-size SUV, Model X, is a seven-passenger vehicle with three rows of seats and gullwing-style doors (“falcon doors” in Tesla lingo) that allow plentiful access to rear seats. Cons include limited cargo space and a low-end price tag expected to be at least $70,000.


The Model S has a hidden feature in the diagnostics mode on the center console. Punch in 0-0-7 and the car will make “nautically themed adjustments” that show the car morphing into a sea-worthy shape.

Why Robocalls Just Keep Getting Worse

iStock.com/Oleksii Spesyvtsev
iStock.com/Oleksii Spesyvtsev

Artificial intelligence was supposed to make life easier for all of us. In the case of robocalls—those persistent, indefatigable automated dialers that pester millions of people with often-bogus sales offers—it’s proving to be one of our biggest nuisances. Somehow, we’re powerless to stop them.

According to a recent NBC News report by Nigel Chiwaya and Jeremia Kimelman, they’re now worse than ever. NBC cited data from YouMail, a voicemail and call-blocking service for iPhone and Android customers, that demonstrated a staggering increase in robocalls: Americans received in excess of 4 billion of the calls in June 2018, up from more than 2 billion in January 2016. Telemarketing calls also topped the list of consumer complaints filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

How frequently you’re interrupted by these calls may depend on your region. Residents of Atlanta received an average of 68 robocalls in September. Those with a 202 area code in Washington, D.C. got 49 calls. On average, a U.S. resident can expect to receive 13 robocalls a month.

There are two possible reasons for the uptick in the calls. Phone apps that block unwanted or unfamiliar numbers are increasing in popularity, which may be prompting scammers and telemarketers to make more calls in an effort to get through. It’s also easier than ever to dispatch the calls, as new software programs make it a snap for anyone to set up a system to mass-dial potential customers. The effort is so cheap—sometimes pennies per call—that if even a small percentage of people respond, it’s worth the investment.

According to CBS News, 25 million Americans were drawn in by a pitch of this type last year alone, losing $9 billion to scams. (“Spoofing,” which can display a local number on a person’s caller ID function, can be an effective way to get an individual to answer the phone.)

What’s the FCC doing about it? This year, they’ve suggested multimillion dollar fines for companies targeting people with robocalls that use spoof numbers. That may deter domestic companies, but because many robocallers are located outside of the United States, it might not lead to a drastic reduction in the number of calls.

There was also hope that the National Do Not Call Registry, which allows consumers to request their number not be dialed by businesses, would lessen the volume. Unfortunately, law-abiding businesses make up only a fraction of those making the calls.

Industry experts have drawn comparisons to spam emails, citing the wave of unsolicited messages that blanketed the internet in the early 2000s before services were able to funnel them out of view. The same may hold true for phone carriers. AT&T offers Call Protect, a service that tries to caution users when an incoming call might be dubious. T-Mobile has Scam Block, which keeps an inventory of known scam numbers so it can block them from coming in.

For now, the best thing consumers can do is ignore calls from unknown numbers and hope technology—like Google’s Pixel smartphone, which will answer and transcribe calls for review, or Stir/Shaken, a cross-platform standard that might one day authenticate phone numbers—will be able to stem the tide of unwanted calls.

Unfortunately, the robocall epidemic could get worse before it gets better. It's being predicted that by 2019, half of all incoming cell phone calls will be from a non-human.

[h/t NBC News]

New Netflix Hack Lets You Control the App With Your Eyes

Netflix, YouTube
Netflix, YouTube

Watching Netflix could become a truly hands-free experience, Popular Mechanics reports. As part of the streaming giant's recent Hack Day—a biannual event where Netflix employees come up with experimental features—engineers debuted Eye Nav, a feature that lets Netflix iOS users navigate the app with simple eye movements.

Using Apple’s augmented reality platform, ARKit, Netflix engineers programmed the Face ID function for iPhone and iPad to recognize eye movements as gestures within the Netflix app. Users can control a cursor by moving their gaze around a screen, browsing the catalog and playing content without ever lifting a finger.

As you move your eyes, a yellow circle moves through the catalog, serving as a giant cursor button. A longer stare results in a click, while sticking out your tongue dismisses the current screen.

While the feature may seem a bit dystopian to some—why would you want Netflix to track every one of your tiniest movements?—it could actually be super useful for people with disabilities who might have an easier time browsing and selecting shows with their eyes rather than tapping the app with their fingers.

So far, Eye Nav is just experimental, but it could become a more permanent part of the mobile app in the future. Since it does require eye-tracking functionality, though, it likely isn't coming to your television anytime soon.

[h/t Popular Mechanics]