Friday, April 01, 2016

The Tesla Model 3 reminds me of the original Macintosh, but Elon Musk does not remind me of Steve Jobs.

The Mac and the Tesla Model 3 have a lot in common. For one, the Model 3 was not the first electric car or Tesla's first electric car and the Macintosh was not the first computer with a graphical user interface (GUI) or Apple's first GUI computer, but both came out at just the right time.

Workstations, the Xerox Star and the Apple Lisa all had GUIs before the Mac, but they were too expensive and remained niche products. When the Mac came out, technology had just improved to the point where a consumer computer with a GUI could gain a foothold and catch on. The Mac, with its proprietary hardware and software, was the only GUI game in town for several years until technology improved to the point that commodity hardware could support a GUI and Microsoft brought out Windows 3 and 3.1.

Similarly, electric cars, including Tesla's, preceded the Model 3, but they were too expensive and inconvenient to grow beyond a niche market. Battery, material and other technologies have now improved to the point where the $35,000 Tesla will appeal to the mainstream. One does not have to care about the environment or global warming to like it. It's sensors, safety features, comfort, size and increased battery capacity (coupled with more charging stations and home chargers) and the ability to be upgraded via software download will appeal to a wide market, including owners of gasoline-powered cars.

As it was for the Mac, the timing is right for the Model 3. it's not too soon and not too late, but just right, like Goldilocks.

As technology improved, personal computers with GUIs became ubiquitous. The transition away from gasoline will take longer than the transition from command lines to GUIs because of the longer replacement cycle for cars, but the tipping point has been reached.

There are also financial parallels between the two. Tesla bankrolled the Model 3 from sales of the Roadster and Models S and X and Apple bankrolled the Mac with sales of the Apple II. Both were fading when the new machines came out. Tesla's stock is now 60% above its price on February 12 and the Apple II was running out of gas when the Mac was delivered.

Both companies developed comprehensive proprietary designs. Apple built the hardware and software for the Mac and Tesla is making the car and the batteries.

But that is where the similarities end. Apple holds on to their hardware and software innovations, protecting them with patents and law suits. Not Tesla. On June 12th 2014 Tesla released all of their 249 patents, saying they would not sue anyone for using their technology in "good faith." As shown below, they took down the plaques on their "wall of patents" after releasing them, replacing them with an image and the slogan "OEMS all our patent are belong to you." (I think Yoda wrote that for them).

Tesla's "wall of patents" before and after (image source)

It seems that Elon Musk sees other car and battery manufacturers as collaborators in the effort to replace gasoline-powered cars rather than competitors.

Disclaimer -- I am kind of an Elon Musk fan boy and make my students watch these videos of Musk being interviewed by Sol Khan, announcing the formation of Tesla Energy and recruiting engineers for the SpaceX satellite Internet project.

Update 4/7/2016

In a blog post entitled The Week that Electric Vehicles Went Mainstream, Tesla says they received 325,000 reservations for the Model 3 in the first week. They also say that translates into about $14.5 billion in sales if all the reserved cars are purchased.

The base price of the car is $35,000, but these figures average out to nearly $45,000 per car. Elon Musk indicated that the base price included all of the sensors and software, but they clearly expect to sell relatively expensive accessories like a second motor for four-wheel drive and additional batteries for extended mileage per charge.

Update 10/20/2016

Elon Musk has announced that all Teslas shipped from now on will have the hardware needed to support fully autonomous driving, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines as:
The vehicle is designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip. Such a design anticipates that the driver will provide destination or navigation input, but is not expected to be available for control at any time during the trip. This includes both occupied and unoccupied vehicles.
The new Tesla processor has 40 times the computing power of the previous generation and runs neural net vision, sonar and radar processing software. The following video shows a test drive and the Tesla sensors.

Update 10/24/2016

The Tesla is also similar to the Macintosh in its attention to design and appearance. The new Teslas ship with eight cameras with 360-degree viewing at up to 820 feet of distance, 12 ultrasonic sensors that can detect both hard and soft objects and a forward-facing radar that helps see through rain, fog, and dust.

That is 21 devices, but you have to look carefully to see them -- they are small and unobtrusive, as shown here: