D is for Dual Drive, and in Tesla’s world “Something Else” is for Auto Pilot but not autonomous driving

Tonight, Tesla Motors unveiled the “D” (and something else) before a crowd at their facility in Hawthorne – the same facility where the phallic Supercharger pylon is located.  Last week Elon Musk slyly hinted it was time to unveil the D, but didn’t say much else.  I’m glad to say the actual announcement – driver assist features and a dual motor version of the P85 – are in line with my guesses last week.

For reference – Model X cutaway showing dual drive
On the Model S P85D the 0-60 time will be closer to 3 secs

What they did not announce was a full self-driving car, nor details on the Model 3, nor a Diesel powered Tesla Model S, nor any of the other nonsense that had been floating around.

The Tesla Model S P85D will have the dual-motor drive train that’s an option for the Model X.  One motor is up front, the other in the rear, making the P85D an all-wheel-drive (AWD) Model S.  The second motor will also make it go much faster, giving it a 0-60 time of about 3 seconds.

The regular Model S P85 does 0-60 in 4.2 seconds.  Tesla’s website doesn’t give many details for the Model X, but says the dual motor version of that car will do 0-60 in under 5 seconds.

Elon Musk claims the 3.2 second 0-60 time matches the McLaren F1.

The new dual motor drive system is expected to make the Model S more efficient, boosting range by about 10 miles to 275 miles.

This method of implementing AWD is significantly different from what’s done in gasser cars.  A gasser AWD system has a drive shaft going to both front and rear axles, and it’s difficult (impossible?) to do much adjustment of torque to the front or rear axle.  Tesla’s implementation has independent electric motors, each connected directly to their respective axle.  As electric motors it’s easy to ramp torque up and down independently for more precise torque control.  So not only will the D system be capable of supercar performance, it’ll be a huge safety improvement on slick roads.

As for the “something else” – that’s the long-awaited driver assist features which Tesla Motors began quietly factory installing a couple weeks ago.  Unfortunately they cannot be retrofitted to existing Model S’s – and I’m already seeing tweets saying “that sux”.

Tesla is having to play catch-up in this area because driver assist features are commonplace among not only luxury cars, but even cars for regular folk.

The company has been able to implement some auto-pilot features much more quickly than they’d expected.  It was about a year ago that Tesla Motors confirmed they were working on implementing autopilot features (Sept 20, 2013) and it was a couple months before that (Aug 6, 2013) where I’d seen job listings on the Tesla website for radar systems engineers to start up the autopilot project.

That’s worth repeating – In August 2013, Tesla Motors was looking for engineers to launch the autopilot project.  In Sept 2013, Elon Musk said to expect something in 2016 or beyond.  Today, they announced that Model S’s are already being shipped with the required sensor equipment, and the autopilot features would start being enabled with over the air updates.

Tesla was able to implement this more quickly than expected.

The system is not full autonomous driving – where you can fall asleep and the car will drive itself.  Instead this is an autopilot system, where the car is actively helping the driver do a better job, and can do a few automatic actions like self parking.

The sensor systems are:

  • Forward looking RADAR that can see through fog, rain, sand, etc
  • Camera’s with image recognition capability that can read street signs, pedestrians, stop lights, etc
  • 360 degree long range ultrasonic SONAR, that can see soft objects at all speeds from 0-155 miles/hr
  • Integration with navigation, GPS and Traffic Data systems
Additionally, all driving systems on the car are (now) digitally controlled rather than controlled with analog systems.  Steering, brakes, speed, etc, are all computer controlled, meaning that the autopilot computer can control any aspect of the car’s behavior.
With this Elon Musk talked about how Tesla’s engineers had implemented lane keeping, automatic cruise control (reading the speed limit off street signs), automatic braking in emergencies, self parking (step out of the car and it’ll park itself), etc.  That includes a mode where you can “summon” the car and it will drive itself to you.  And, if you’ve turned on calendar support in the car, it’ll recognize you have an appointment, what time you have to leave, and prepare itself by driving to the front door and turning on the air conditioning at the right time.
Since none of this is retrofittable to existing Model S’s I’m predicting some turnover of Model S ownership, where people will be trading in their cars for the newer ones with autopilot.  Coincidentally, Tesla Motors just announced the opening of a certified used car program.
As we noted a couple weeks ago, for the last two weeks all Model S’s have been manufactured with the sensors required for the autopilot features.  It’s already shipping.
What’s next is for Tesla Motors to begin turning the features on via over-the-air updates.  Elon Musk didn’t make it clear the availability of these autopilot features, but it sounded to me the features named above (and other features) will be turned on over time rather than all at once.
The announcement event did not give details of availability or pricing for these new features.  However the details are shown on the Tesla Motors website.
There will be three models of the dual drive system – 60D (60 kWh dual drive), 85D (ditto but 85 kWh pack) and the top of the line P85D (ditto but for the performance model).  P85D deliveries will start in December 2014, while the others start in February 2015.The 60D and 85D carry a $4000 price premium, while the P85D has a $14,600 price premium.  The site explains that the P85D requires the Tech Package, Smart Air Suspension and 21″ wheels.  The baseline price rises to over $120,000 for the P85D.

As for the autopilot features, some of those are already turned on, and more will be turned on via over-the-air updates.  From the Tesla Motors website it appears that buying the Tech Package will turn on additional autopilot features.That makes the low end price $81,320 (US) for the 60D – options are the dual drive system ($4000), Supercharger enablement ($2000) and the Tech Package ($4250).

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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  1. Pingback: Tesla Motors: Autopilot now, tomorrow the world? | The Long Tail Pipe

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