Let’s start with the bad news. Back in May, a person died in a Tesla car thanks to autopilot error. Then, just recently, the same happened again. When you look at the numbers, it was always going to be inevitable. There are now just so many Teslas on the road that statistically there’s bound to be an incident. Of course, this has proven to be an opportunity for all those that oppose Tesla. Traditional car companies, like Volvo, called Tesla’s autopilot beta testing irresponsible. And the media pounced on the incident almost immediately. It seemed as if self-driving tech and Tesla were in doubt.
But Tesla has continued in much the same way it was before these incidents. And it’s been making improvements to the autopilot technology. The fact is that autopilot is still very safe. Far safer than leaving the business of driving to Tesla drivers themselves. And it’s only getting safer.
Now let’s turn to the good news. The Tesla Model S is the best car ever made. Not the best electric vehicle or the best executive car. But the best car ever. That’s quite an accolade. And it’s backed up by the sales figures. The Model S outsells all offerings from the established players in the US market. That includes Audi, Mercedes and BMW. Driving that success is partly the car’s incredible performance and comfort. But it’s also the incredible, and somewhat wacky, safety features. So what has the company been up to make us safer?
We’re used to the idea that our headlight face in the forward direction. And for any normal company, they would never conceive of anything else. But Tesla isn’t a regular car company. It’s a rebellious, blue-sky company that acts more like it’s from Silicon Valley. And so they’ve decided to give the Model S headlights that turn as drivers go around corners. It’s an impressive feat. Each of the car’s 14 LED lights at the front independently pivots in three positions. When the driver turns the wheel of the car, the lights rotate in the direction of travel, thereby increasing visibility when turning. You can imagine how useful this technology is at night on long and winding roads. It comes in useful just as things get dangerous.
Bio-Weapon Defense Mode
No, I haven’t made that up. In fact, I’ve lifted it straight from the Tesla Model S website. It sounds like something you’d expect if you were trying to buy a military vehicle. But the truth is that Tesla’s defence is probably better than the average Humvee. The Model S now apparently has a HEPA air filtration system. This means that it can capture 99.97 percent of all of the particles that would otherwise enter the cabin. This is good news for people who drive on busy, polluted roads every day. Science established a link between diesel exhausts and lung cancer in the 1990s.
What’s more, it’s also particularly useful for people who have asthma or allergies. The filtration system filters out dust and bacteria that could cause reactions.
But what about bioweapons? That’s what we’re all interested in. Can this car protect you from those too? It turns out it can. When you activate the bioweapon defence mode, the car creates a positive cabin pressure. This, combined with the air filtration, keeps out anything nasty floating around in the air outside. Tesla says that this will protect cabin occupants.
According to this law firm here, there are more than 5 million accidents on America’s roads every year. That’s an astonishing statistics. And it reveals just how dangerous it still is to drive in the US. It also reminds us how rare a cause of accidents is auto-pilot technology. Two incidents out of five million is hardly a bad performance.
Autopilot is perhaps the crowning achievement of Tesla, both in terms of safety and general automotive tech. In essence, autopilot is a safety feature and a convenience. Right now the autopilot is mainly limited to driving on the highway. Tesla drivers can use the autopilot feature for cruise control, changing lanes and turning signals. They can also “summon” their cars to greet them at their front doors in the morning. The autopilot will also perform parallel parking.
The fact that autopilot cruise control is adaptive is good news for safety advocates. Here is a car that will mostly drive itself on the highway and doesn’t require human concentration. As software advances, Model S cars will be updated, and autopilot will become more capable. Musk has hinted that the 2018 Model 3 will be the first fully autonomous car. And so we probably won’t have to wait very long until a very capable Model S.
But of course, the Tesla’s safety features don’t end there. The car was specially designed to be the safest car in the world when it was built. And Tesla has more or less achieved that. There is anecdote after anecdote of how the car has protected drivers from serious injuries since its release. So what else has Tesla done to improve safety?
One of the main safety features is actually the electric drivetrain. It sounds a little strange to say that the engine is a safety feature. But it turns out that it is. The main advantage of an electric drivetrain is the low centre of gravity of the car. The floor of the car is essentially a giant, massive battery. And this battery, coupled with the two engines, keep the centre of gravity low. That means that it’s almost impossible to roll the car in a collision.
Underneath the chassis, everything is held together on a boron steel scaffold. The idea here is to allow the vehicle to absorb impact in a collision progressively. Boron steel has special crumpling properties. And it is able to deflect energy around the driver.
Finally, the car uses steel-reinforced side pillars to mitigate side impacts. It also has eight airbags for both front and backseat passengers. During an accident, the high-voltage battery is immediately switched off.