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.

Smart HVAC Systems Promise the Perfect Temperature—and Energy Bill Savings


Smart home technology is often touted as a luxury convenience. What if you could turn on your lights with your voice, or see who’s knocking at your door using your phone, or play online quizzes in your kitchen while you cook? But smart home technology has the potential to do far more than just give us new gadgets to mess around with. It can help save energy and solve some of the issues that have plagued homeowners for decades. Like, for instance, the problem of an air conditioning system that works better in some rooms than others. Alea Air, a new smart HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) system, does just that, as Fast Company reports.

Keeping your environment at just the right temperature in every room isn’t exactly a sexy issue, but it’s one that touches just about everyone. Try to find an office that stays at a comfortable temperature throughout the day, year-round, in both conference rooms and cubicles. You probably can’t, because there are so many factors that go into keeping a building with many rooms—like an office, apartment building, or house—at just the right temperature. Variables such as how many vents there are, where they’re placed, how much sun the windows get, how big the room is, and how many people are in that room can all affect how much heating or cooling power a particular area needs.

A black vent sits on the floor before installation.

Whereas most HVAC systems only have one temperature sensor to track the environment of the whole house, Alea Air features WiFi- and Bluetooth-connected smart vents that can be installed in every room to track temperature, air quality, room occupancy, and other factors to keep houses at the right temperature no matter what room you’re in. The vents have 11 sensors to track air conditions, including infrared temperature sensors, humidity sensors to track the real-feel of the temperature, air quality sensors, UV and ambient light sensors, audio sensors that can detect if your system is emitting those loud whooshing sounds, and more.

That means the system can tell that your kitchen with its giant south-facing windows and active oven is always way too hot, or that your guest bedroom never has anyone in it. You can use the app to adjust your bedroom to be cooler than the rest of the house, so you can snuggle up under your giant comforter at night, but still keep your home office toasty enough that your fingers don't freeze while you work.

Screenshots of the Alea app showing temperature monitoring and adjustment functions

You don’t have to install a totally new heating and cooling system. If you have a central heating or heating/cooling system, you can replace your old vents with the Alea Air vents and plug into your old system. You can use your existing smart thermostat, too.

Though you will no doubt save money on your energy bill with your newfound ability to micromanage your household heating and cooling, there’s a hefty pricetag that comes with being an early adopter—especially if your house has more than three rooms. A kit of three vents and one Airhub costs $379, with additional vents starting at $119 each.

The vents come in black or white and are available for pre-order here.

[h/t Fast Company]

Italian Scientists Created a Robot Toddler and It's Kind of Terrifying

Oli Scarff, Getty Images
Oli Scarff, Getty Images

Scientists have already given us creepy headless dog robots and robots that squirm around like eels. Now, Futurism has spotted a different kind of robot to haunt our nightmares. Meet iCub, a humanoid machine that's designed to look and move like a toddler.

Created by scientists at the Italian Institute of Technology, iCub was designed as a tool for researching child development. It's made to study embodied cognition, the theory that cognitive function is directly influenced by our physical experiences. In particular, iCub can help researchers study how interacting with the physical world can influence how children's brains develop.

With iCub, researchers can recreate the motions of a toddler in a controlled environment. The first prototype of the robot debuted in 2009, but recently, researchers developed a technique that lets them control iCub's movements and see through its eyes in virtual reality [PDF]. (You can see it at work in the video below.)

The science sounds intriguing, but to a layperson, iCub looks like a bit of a horror show. It walks with outstretched fingers and an awkward gait that's more zombie than toddler. The face, which has a huge set of eyes but lacks a mouth, also fits snugly in the uncanny valley.

iCub's design is open source, so if any roboticists out there think they can tweak the design to make it less unsettling, they're welcome to do so.

Behold the nightmare in action:

[h/t Futurism]