The other day (Feb 10, 2021) Joe Rogan interviewed Elon Musk for 3 hours on his Spotify podcast (You can listen to a replay of the podcast below). They were in Texas and not California so no pot was smoked this time. The discussion began with the topic of UFOs and Alien Life, which Musk easily dismissed by observing that over the centuries tens of thousands of archaeologist have not once found a shred of evidence for alien life - e.g. a titanium cube in a pyramid - so "they must be very shy," he said, or else there is no such thing.
Over glasses of bourbon on the rocks Rogan and Musk talked about the new Roadster, which would be shipping some time in 2022. Rogan asked him how the rocket propulsion would work, and would the car be able to hover. Musk said for sure he wanted it to hover, but not more than a metre (3 - 6 feet) above the ground. "I don't want to kill anybody," he said, adding that it might wreck the suspension if it dropped from that height, but people would survive. He explained how the car would come stock with two kiddie seats in the back, but if you ordered the "SpaceX option package" that part of the car would instead contain a carbon fibre reinforced ultra high pressure tank at 10,000psi. "The license plate would flip down James Bond style and a rocket thruster would come out that gives you three tons of thrust. This thing would move like a bat out of hell," said Musk.
As for the Model S Plaid, he said they just tested it and got acceleration of 0 - 60 in 1.96 seconds. He said as delivered the new Model S Plaid would beat 7 seconds on the Nürburgring track, which is unheard of for stock cars. In practical terms Musk said that off the line from a green light, "The car will hit 60 mph before it crosses the intersection. It's insane. It's uncomfortably fast."
On the question of how people will drive the new Model S without a stalk for shifting gears Musk said that when you press the brake and then the accelerator the car would simply figure out whether you want to go backward or forward. "It looks and sees if there's an obstacle in front, in which case it would choose reverse," said Musk. If the situation is ambiguous it defaults to the inverse of whatever you started with, says Musk. This would happen when parallel parking for instance. Besides he says if you just swipe up or down on the screen it changes direction. "You'll see. Once you get rid of the stalk and have the car figure it out, it's annoying to have a stalk."
Musk then gave a quick tip: "If you just swipe down on the navigate button in any Tesla it figures out if you want to go Home or to Work and just navigates there." If it's morning time it assumes work. His basic philosophy is that the car should always know what to do. He says, "All input is error. If you have to do something, it's an error." That is: the car should always naturally know to do the right thing. If you have to intervene, then the car did something wrong.
He then told Rogan that his favourite game in the car is Polytopia, a strategy game. "That's my top recommendation for any game in the car." He said in the future, as cars become more autonomous, trips are really going to be more about entertainment. "Entertainment first, and then productivity," says Musk.
He then talked about how much he liked Austin, Texas where they are building the factory for the Cybertruck. "This is where the Tesla team wanted the factory to be. It's a mini California in Austin," says Musk. "I think Austin is going to be the biggest boom town that America has seen in half a century." The Tesla factory is only 2 miles from the airport. "We have a lot of land: 2500 acres right next to the airport."
He said they had to redesign the Cybertruck to be two or three inches smaller so it would fit into the tunnels made by his Boring Company. He predicted that volume truck production would happen in 2022 and it would have a range of something around 300 miles (~500 km). Talk then turned to aerodynamic drag for the cybertruck. Turns out the sharp angles of the truck are very bad for aerodynamics. "Air likes rounded surfaces," says Musk. But he added that having the angled cover at the rear over the truck bed makes a huge difference, and is unlike any other pickup truck where the flat bed and tailgate act like dragging a parachute behind the vehicle.
Musk then started talking about tires. He said that an airless tire was probably coming but it was a very difficult problem, all things considered.
Next they talked about vans. He said with a flat roof, and a big awning that spread out to the side they might be able to put solar panels on top, and get enough energy to provide 30 miles a day of range from the sun for free. "Capturing solar energy is all about area," says Musk. You need an area the size of a house roof to be practical for charging an electric vehicle.
Later in the program Musk got on the subject of automobile safety including seat belts and airbags. At one point Musk said, "Modern air bags are so good they will blow your mind," even suggesting that seat belts might not even be necessary. "At Tesla we have even updated the software to improve how the airbags deploy." Based on an array of sensors in the seats, he said, "We calculate if you are an adult then how much do you weigh. Are you on this part of the seat or that part. Are you a baby? Are you a toddler? We work out if it's a male or a female to a percentile probability." Tesla airbags fire differently depending on your weight, your position on the seat, and even what your gender orientation is. Musk added that airbag deployment software improvements is always included with regular over the air updates so it's always getting better. "The sophistication of airbags is crazy good," he says.
Next they talked about lithium batteries used in cars. When Rogan asked if lithium was a rare element Musk assured him that it was everywhere, one of the most common elements in the universe. He pointed out that the term 'lithium battery' is actually a misnomer because the batteries are composed mostly of either nickel or iron. Using a food analogy Musk said, "Lithium is like salt. Do you like salt on your salad? Sure. But it's not made of salt." According to Musk nickel-based batteries are more energy dense but iron-based batteries are cheaper to produce. He said Tesla's batteries contain a nickel cathode, a carbon/silicon anode and the lithium ions just trundle back and forth between the two.
Rogan and Musk continued to sip their whiskey as they moved on to the topic of climate change and what can be done. Musk's position is that since the oil supply is finite, at some point we MUST switch to more renewable sources of energy, so why not do it sooner rather than later. He did not come down hard on the oil and gas industry. Instead he promoted a carbon tax which both he and Rogan agreed was a no brainer. Musk says he has already spoken to President Biden urging him to introduce a carbon tax in the US, but Biden was not prepared to do that as it would be politically dangerous. According to Musk a carbon tax is key to solving the climate crisis because it internalizes the economic cost of burning fossil fuels for energy. He talked about his creation of an X-Prize for a viable carbon capture technology, saying that a HUGE amount of energy is always required to capture carbon. "How much wind or solar energy is required to pull carbon out of the atmosphere and make a cube of it or something, a giant cube?" he asks. "We don't actually know the answer to this question and that's why I'm giving a hundred million dollars to get a better answer."
The conversation then turned to the Model X which Musk described as the Fabergé Egg of cars and an insane exercise in hubris. "We really got carried away with that car," says Musk. He seemed somewhat embarrassed. They talked about its amazing HEPA filter system, it's crazy doors, and it's incredible stability in safety tests. He pointed to a few specifics. For instance that the gull-wing doors have specially developed ultrasonic motion sensors that are hidden so they didn't have to put the typical little round plastic pucks on the outside of the door. Also the way the seats are mounted on a rear inclined single post with all the mechanism hidden beneath the floor, "so if you open the door and look through, it's just completely clean," says Musk. "The floor is like a knife edge. There's nothing else like it." The windscreen of the Model X is like in a helicopter he says. "There's no place to attach the sun visor. So we had to create sun visors that nest in the A pillar, rotate forward with a magnetic attachment that pops out and attaches to the rear view mirror." The sound system in the Model X is designed taking into account that the windscreen acts like a giant subwoofer resonator. "The sound system is epic in the X," says Musk. "It's good in the S too. It's even better in the new S." Rogan then asked if there's going to be a plaid X and Musk said sure and bizarrely fast for an SUV, with a range of about 350 miles (560 km). You can order one now on Tesla.com for about $113,000.
The next topic of conversation was the Tesla Semi truck. Musk said that Tesla semis are already being used to move cars. "We drive them back and forth from Fremont to Reno transporting stuff." He quoted a range of about 300 miles, which he said was enough for most trips driven by trucks. You want a 500kWh battery pack in a semi said Musk, reminding Rogan that the Model S comes with a 100kWh pack. This would be accomplished by incorporating the battery packs as structural elements of the truck frame. "This definitely works one hundred percent, there's no question about it," said Musk. He also said that Tesla semi trucks will be inherently safer with a super low centre of gravity and also "with individual motors controlling the wheels the computer will automatically prevent it from jackknifing, a truck driver's worst nightmare."
The interview ended with Rogan asking Musk if he was planning to branch out into airplane design and production. Musk responded by saying his brain would explode if he did because he has so much on his plate already. He said no car company has ever expanded into "air cars." But he then spent a few minutes discussing the physics of flight, concluding that the main goal should be to get as high as possible as fast as possible, because once you are at 100,000 feet (30.5km), air density is 1% of that on the surface, which means you can go very fast using very little energy. He said the problem with combustion engines was that they needed air to burn fuel, and with the air density at altitude being 100 times less than on the surface it's very difficult to design a combustion engine that can operate over such a huge range. "It's an intractable problem," said Musk, "But if you have an electric plane it's not burning anything so it doesn't matter." Musk said that Tesla would likely do trucks and boats before they work on airplanes, "But ultimately there will be an electric vertical take off and landing supersonic jet." He said a lot of other smart people are working on it, so it will probably happen.
Barry Shell is a freelance writer in Vancouver, Canada. He created www.science.ca, the top Google hit for any search on Canadian science. He has written four books, and has published in magazines and newspapers including the Globe and Mail and the New York Times. Originally from Winnipeg, Barry has a BSc in Organic Chemistry from Reed College in Portland, OR and an MSc in Resource Management Science from UBC. His book, "Sensational Scientists" profiling 24 of Canada's greatest scientists and published by Raincoast Books, won a national book award in 2005.
Subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date on the latest Tesla news, upcoming features and software updates.
Ganesh Venkataramanan, Tesla’s project lead for its ambitious Dojo supercomputer project for the past five years, has left the company. Bloomberg reported this development, stating that the news was confirmed by sources familiar with the matter. Peter Bannon, a former executive at Apple Inc. and a director at Tesla for the last seven years, has now taken the helm of the project.
Venkataramanan's departure from Tesla last month is now stirring conversations about the potential impacts on Tesla's future initiatives. His contributions to the Dojo project have been pivotal, especially in designing the custom D1 chip that powers the supercomputer. Venkataramanan, with his extensive experience, including a significant tenure at Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD), was a crucial asset in setting up Tesla’s AI hardware and silicon teams in 2016.
Dojo: A Cornerstone for Tesla’s Self-Driving Aspirations
The Dojo supercomputer is a critical element of Tesla's strategy to enhance its self-driving capabilities. Designed to train machine learning models integral to Tesla's autonomous systems, Dojo processes vast amounts of data captured by Tesla vehicles. This rapid data processing is essential for improving the company’s algorithms, with analysts suggesting that Dojo could be a significant competitive advantage for Tesla. In a recent estimation by Morgan Stanley, the project could potentially add $500 billion to Tesla’s value.
Elon Musk has been vocal about the company's commitment to the Dojo project, planning an investment exceeding $1 billion by the end of 2024. The project's importance was underscored in Tesla's decision to shift from relying on Nvidia Corp.’s supercomputers to developing Dojo, poised to rival systems from Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. and IBM.
Looking Ahead: Impact and Future Prospects
The recent leadership changes raise questions about the future direction of the Dojo project. Venkataramanan's exit, coupled with the departure of another critical artificial intelligence player from Tesla last year, Andrej Karpathy, signals a transition period for the company’s AI and self-driving teams.
However, Tesla's robust talent pool, blending experienced and emerging professionals, offers a silver lining. Bannon's promotion to lead the Dojo project is seen as a strategic move, leveraging his experience and insights gained from his tenure at Apple. Moreover, the recent installation of Dojo hardware in Palo Alto, California, marks a step forward in centralizing and enhancing the project’s capabilities.
Tesla’s ambitions for Dojo extend to making it one of the world’s top supercomputers. The company envisions reaching a computational capability of 100 exaflops* by October 2024, a testament to its commitment to advancing artificial intelligence and self-driving technology.
* Confused about "exaflops?" "Flops" stands for Floating Point Operations Per Second. It's a way to measure how fast a computer can process data. "Exa" means a billion billion, or 1, followed by 18 zeros (1,000,000,000,000,000,000). So, when we say a computer can perform 100 exaflops, it can do 100 billion billion calculations per second. That's incredibly fast!
Tesla is adding a new 'High Fidelity Park Assist' feature in this year's Holiday Update
Following initial reactions to Tesla's 2023 Holiday Update, Elon Musk acknowledged the need for improvement, stating, "We need to step up our game." His post on X was followed by Tesla shedding more light on the Holiday Update than what was in the initial leak.
Call me old, but I remember a time when you bought a car, and that was it; the dealer and manufacturer didn’t give you anything else. So is the Tesla community acting a little bit spoiled here? Absolutely. But it also shows how high Tesla has set the bar with its previous Holiday Updates.
Initial Release and Feedback
The initial release of the 2023 Holiday Update, version 2023.44.25, received mixed reactions from the Tesla community, with some owners expressing disappointment over the lack of groundbreaking new features. But the newly announced features may serve as better stocking stuffers.
The initial rollout included something owners have been asking for, the blind spot monitor. The camera that turns on when you change lanes will now have a red color added if there is something in your blind spot. It’s not clear whether it will be accompanied by a tone.
Tesla’s blind spot warning in this year’s holiday update
Here are other features in the leaked update that are being tested by employees:
Navigation and Safety Features: Including symbols for speed cameras, stop signs, and traffic lights in navigation, and the automatic 911 call feature in case of an accident.
Trip Planning via Tesla Mobile App: Allowing for more detailed trip planning, including multiple stops and charging points.
Apple Podcasts Integration: Allowing users to sync with Apple devices for a seamless podcast experience, directly addressing the demand for a richer in-car entertainment system.
New Games and Enhancements: The update brought updates to Tesla Arcade, with Beach Buggy Racing and Polytopia Diplomacy updates, as well as the Vampire Survivors Chilling update.
Light Show Improvements: There’s a new light show that’s included with your vehicle. You’ll also be able to upload several light shows on a single USB drive and pick one from the vehicle, instead of having to use multiple USB drives, one for each light show.
More Live Sentry Mode Cameras: You will now be able to view the B-pillar cameras directly from the Tesla app. This brings the number of viewable cameras in the app up to seven. The only ones still missing are the alternative front-facing cameras that are telephoto and wide-angle, which wouldn’t bring much additional value. Although the B-pillars are viewable in the app with this update, they will still not be used to record during Dashcam or Sentry Mode events.
High-Fidelity Park Assist
Tesla's new parking assist feature will dynamically recreate scenes in real-time
In response to the feedback and Musk's statement, Tesla unveiled additional features in its updated holiday update, including an improved park assist with enhanced visualizations.
This feature provides a 3D reconstruction of the vehicle's surroundings while parking, akin to a 360-degree camera system found in other high-end vehicles. The system is clearly leveraging improvements to Tesla Vision to create the surrounding environment, such as cars, pillars and walls.
This feature also appears to change the color of objects depending on how close they are to your vehicle. In the image we can see the pillars are orange, but if we look closer, the object behind the vehicle is also orange near the bottom. The sides of the vehicles next to the Tesla also have a slight hint of orange, indicating their proximity.
However, it looks like this feature may be even better than it initially looks. The vehicles in the image aren’t just predefined 3D models that Tesla created, like the ones used in Autopilot visualizations. These models appear to be dynamically created using vision, so that no two cars would look alike, much more similar to what LiDar is able to achieve. The visualization provides a true representation of the environment around the vehicle. You can see that each vehicle is made up from layers and have blurred edges toward the rear, where the camera would have a hard time seeing.
These 3D models could be a sneak peek at the future of FSD visualizations.
High-Fidelity Park Assist Requirements
A big question on everyone’s mind is who will receive this new park assist feature. Tesla didn’t address this in their post on X besides providing a disclaimer that the features in the holiday release are subject to model and region availability. Tesla often likes to test features in select markets before making them available everywhere. It’s hard to say whether that will be the case here. There likely aren’t any legal ramifications around providing visualizations, so that’s a good sign that this feature will be available in most regions, either in the holiday update, or soon afterward.
However, there are still questions around which models or hardware will be required. From the image shared, we can see it’s offered on a Model Y, removing any speculation of it possibly requiring the HD radar in the new Model S/X. We also don’t think it will require FSD hardware 4.0, so the remaining questions are whether it requires MCU 3, or the FSD package.
Given that Tesla is calling this Park Assist, it doesn’t appear to be linked to Auto Park, which is a FSD package feature. When Tesla rolled out visual and audio alerts for vehicles without ultrasonic sensors, it called the feature Park Assist, and that was available to all owners.
Whether this improved Park Assist feature requires a vehicle with MCU 3 will depend on the level of processing power required. It’ll certainly require more than the current visualizations given that its building the scene in real-time, so we’re hopeful that it’ll work on MCU 2 vehicles too, but we just don’t have enough information right now to make the call.
Custom Lock Sounds
Soon you'll be able to choose a custom locking sound for your car
Not a Tesla App
Tesla also announced a fun and whimsical feature that allows owners to customize the lock sound of their Tesla. No longer will you need to listen to the car’s horn when it locks as you walk away. Now you’ll be able to customize the lock sound of the vehicle. Tesla is including several options, including sounds like a screaming goat, a jingle, a rubber ducky, a quack sound, an old school horn and applause. However, you’ll also be able to upload your own file to create a truly unique experience.
You can pick anything, from a bird’s tweet to a favorite video game sound. You’ll only be limited by the maximum upload file size, which according to a Tesla engineer, is a 1MB file in WAV format, which is roughly about 40 seconds at good quality.
This feature is possible due to the vehicle’s external pedestrian warning speaker. So if you have Tesla’s Boombox feature or your vehicle makes a sound when traveling under 20 MPH, then you should receive this fun enhancement.
Rear Seat Audio and Gaming
You'll now be able to play games on Tesla's rear screens
Enhancing the Tesla Arcade experience, passengers in the rear seats can now play games on the rear touchscreen. This feature, especially when paired with Tesla Arcade’s compatibility with PS4, PS5, Xbox Controllers, and rear-screen Bluetooth Headsets, is a welcome addition for families and long trips.
Much like the new Model 3, which received rear audio over Bluetooth support in the 2023.38 update, the new Model S and Model X will also receive this ability in the holiday update.
New Game - Castle Doombad
Tesla announced one other feature in the 2023 holiday update that hadn’t been previously leaked, and that’s a new game called Castle Doombad. Castle Doombad is a single player tower defense, puzzle-like game that’s currently available on iOS and Android, but has an upcoming release on PC and the Nintendo Switch. This game is expected to require MCU 3.
The rollout of the 2023 Holiday Update is expected to follow a similar timeline to last year. Tesla announced that the update will roll out starting next week. However, it’s not clear whether this will also include FSD Beta testers that are on a 2023.27 update.
Like a spoiled child on Christmas morning, Tesla owners still ask, “Is that it?” Well… possibly, but there may be more to look forward to early next year as Tesla builds off of the new High-Fidelity Park Assist feature.
Advanced Smart Summon: Upgrading the Smart Summon feature to be more intuitive and efficient, especially in complex parking scenarios.
Reverse Summon / Park Seek: What happened to Tesla dropping its passengers and driver off at the location and then finding a parking spot on its own?
Enhanced FSD Visualizations: Expanding the Full Self-Driving visualizations to more regions or models or completely recreating the FSD visualizations using the same neural networks Tesla is using for the High-Fidelity Park Assist feature.
TeslaFi logs your drives and charging sessions, letting you keep a log of your vehice's activity. We highly recommend checking them out if you use your car for business trips and would like to keep track of reimbursements, if you like to see how much you spend on charging or if you just love statistics. Visit their site and see everything they have to offer!
The EV Universe newsletter reports distill more than 100 EV news sources into a 10-minute read every week. We cover both Tesla and the rest of the EV industry. Join over 3,000 EV geeks like us and subscribe to the free weekly newsletter here.
Tesla Android Project enables you to run Android apps in your Tesla. The platform is Open Source and you can deploy it on your own Raspberry Pi 4. Consider supporting the initiative by donating or purchasing the Compute Module 4 Bundle that delivers the best experience. Get $20 off by using the code: NotATeslaApp
The official Tesla app only notifies you if your car is broken into. By installing Sentry Pro on your phone, you will be notified for all Sentry Mode events. Stay connected and avoid potential surprises by receiving notifications. Stop constantly checking the cameras to ensure safety. Check only when necessary, save battery and get peace of mind. Get a 7 day free trial here!