Tesla : Case Study : Internet of Things

The Tesla automobile is a big example of the Internet of Things and potential problems and benefits of this idea.


 (My latest blog update on the tesla is here)

IOT properties of the Tesla 

1) The Tesla has a persistent always on 3G cell connection to the internet that is paid for by Tesla possibly for life.  

2) The car has an API (Here)

3) All Teslas are built with 18 auto-drive sensors for monitoring the environment around the car in all directions.  These are software enabled for a fee.

4) The car could be lethal to both passengers and others if it were hacked inappropriately

5) Tesla has reportedly formed an early warning threat detection and reward system to reward hackers who discover vulnerabilities in the cars security

6) The car can detect the presence of a key fob within a small distance of the vehicles perimeter

7) The car can provide Geolocation information attitude (angle) and accelerometers, has a camera for rear view and other sensors of its internal operations some of which can be accessed remotely.   Virtually all aspects of the cars functionality are digitized and theoretically available for inspection and utilization including energy use, positions of wheels, brakes and emergency brake, climate system, seat positions, mirrors, door handles …

8) The car has an “App framework” that allows developers to build apps to run in the car.  This will be enabled in 2015 with the addition of a Chrome browser and android app compatibility.  Currently there are only a couple internet music apps that are built into the car and a browser.

9) The car has a mobile app that can wake up the car from sleep (low energy state) over the air at any time.  From the app you can find the location, speed, operating mode of the car, temperature in the car, battery condition and charging status.  You can also control many functions of the Tesla remotely including the horn, lights, climate system, charging and even authorize operation of the car remotely.

10) The car can take in new versions of its software and firmware and upgrade itself automatically or under user control which revolutionizes the way cars are maintained.  Updates include significant improvements in the cars capabilities with each release adding new features and fixing others every few weeks.

11) the car has a 17″ touchscreen console for controlling all functions and a video console for the drivers speedometer and other driving  information.  This represents a significant change and advance in the way to operate a car.

12) The car has a removable battery on the underside of the car which can be replaced at Tesla Supercharging stations and a builtin smart charging system that can adapt to almost any electrical source that is plugged into the car.  Adapters for things like RV hookups, Clothes dryer plugs as well as standard 110V and 220V configurations are supported as well as J1772 standard plugs are provided.  The car can accept up to 500Amps of DC current for quick charging.  It has the ability to regulate the power consumed to the capability of the line it is connected to and to reduce consumption as the batteries can accept as well as allowing the user to designate lower maximum charging levels and even a timer to control when it starts charging.

13) Tesla records some telemetry from the cars to help it fix and improve maintenance of the cars in general.  This is a new and significant capability for any car.   Other cars have ways for drivers to collect information using a 3rd party device but nobody collects real time data like Tesla in a comprehensive way.   One would imagine this is the future of cars but possibly humans as well if we get monitors at some point.

Functionality of the Car Itself

2013-Tesla-Model-S-interior-1 1t4hg8KbzDRyDvQY7bYt2pA


The functionality of a car is well known.   The Tesla is a fully functional car with extraordinary performance.  Even the slowest version of the Tesla is faster than many high performance sedans from luxury car makers in the world and the performance version is as fast as any sports car available on the road today.  The D model just introduced does 0-60 in 3.2 seconds, as fast as any production car in the world.   Let’s just say it’s a blast to drive!   It’s smooth, quiet, fast.   There is virtually no delay at any speed or situation between pressing on the pedal and acceleration.


The Tesla varies in price between $60,000 and $100,000+ in the US depending on configuration.  Rebates from the government vary between $7,500 and $12,500 depending on state.

It is 3-5 times less expensive to drive per mile than competitive ICE sedans (Internal combustion engine car).  A full charge of the car from zero (with the small battery) is $6 at 10c/kwh which is average rate.   In california you can ask PGE to switch you to a time based rate system which will allow you to save additional money.  I have also found that it is possible to find numerous places and ways to charge the car free of charge reducing your energy costs even more.  The Tesla can save you $200-400/mo in energy costs or more and with the rebate the first year or two can be virtually free to operate the vehicle if you finance it or lease it.

The maintenance of the car is minimal.  There are no oil changes, belts to replace, spark plugs or wearable components other than brakes and tires.  The motors and hydraulic systems for steering, braking, air conditioning and suspension may need maintenance as with a normal car presumably although the regenerative braking greatly reduces the need for replacing brakes.  There is some concern that millions of ICE car workers could be put out of a job because the car simply doesn’t need maintenance like ICE cars do.  Tesla offers service at home options where it will come to your house to perform the service.

If at home charging takes off then many thousands of service stations might go out of business as well.   That’s disruptive potentially to millions of jobs in the US alone. Since the car has no drivetrain like a traditional ICE, transmission, drive shaft the body can be built with no-compromise aerodynamic and safety considerations.


The Tesla was ranked by the NTSA and Consumer reports as the safest car ever built and the most efficient.    The NTSA had their “car breaking” machine broken by the Tesla.   The Telsa broke the machine after applying a force equivalent to 4 Teslas stacked on the roof of the car the machine ran out of steam.   The NTSA also was unable to flip the car since the center of gravity is so low and the Tesla battery is positioned on the floor.   The Tesla not only beat previous records in safety.  In many cases it slaughtered competitive cars, beating the next closer competitor by 50% or more.  In the side impact test with a pole smashing into the passenger compartment the Tesla left 70+% of the compartment for the passenger.  The Volvo (the closest competitor) left 7% for the passenger.   You can see the impressive results in the report from Tesla I reference at the bottom of this article.    I looked at pictures of Tesla crashes on google images.  I assume Google images is not in league with Tesla. None of the images showed the passenger compartment penetrated or crushed.  The front was crushed, the back, the car was split in half but all the images I browsed on google showed the passenger compartment intact and whole from what I could see in every crash.  I have to say that is impressive.  Unlike conventional cars, the lack of conventional ICE motor and associated components means the Tesla was able to design a passenger compartment that uses the rest of the car as crumple zone enabling it to achieve much higher integrity of the passenger cabin..

No passenger in a Tesla has been seriously injured or killed in its short history so far as far as I can tell and Elon Musk has said this as well.   Recent reports of fires have not been life threatening or injurious to anyone.   If you look at Google images “Telsa Crash” I think you will see what I mean.  Looking at those images I get the impression if the US all drove Teslas we would save 40,000 deaths every year in car crashes.  I am sure there are ways to die in a Tesla but it looks quite safe compared to any other car in history.

Battery Life

One of the biggest consideration with any IOT is the battery life.   The Tesla will drive between 150 and 400 miles depending on the battery configuration, speed you drive the car and various options you use while the car is on.   It has various smart configuration options to reduce power consumption and ways of telling you how you are using the cars power now and over various time periods.  I never knew how going up hills affected my ICE cars energy use.  With Tesla I can calculate precisely how much going up a hill will cost.  You see everything you do and what it costs you.  Some may eschew having that much detail.  It can lead to overanalysis but it is hard to fault Tesla for giving you the information to optimize its performance.

Tesla is building a network of hundreds initially (covering more than 95% of US population in 2014) and possibly thousands of supercharging stations over the next several years (worldwide)  where you may charge the car from empty to half full in 20 minutes.  You can also replace the battery with a fully charged loaner battery in 90 seconds, twice as fast as the time it takes to fill an ICE car with liquid dinosaur.     Tesla makes the quick charging supercharger stations available to all owners for life either included with the cost of the car or for a fixed fee of $2000 for the smaller battery.


There are <30,000 Teslas on the road but already its sales have impacted BWM and Mercedes causing them to report declining sales for 2013 for their luxury sedans. Every 2-4 weeks Tesla issues software upgrades to the car via wireless connection.  The latest upgrade improved the way the variable height suspension system works, improved the cars handling on steep hills when at a stop, improved the bluetooth coonectivity, improved the way the car measures range left and energy usage and a number of other things.  Previous versions have fixed charging problems with faulty household wiring which caused fires.   The ability of Tesla to fix the car without needing to go into a shop and over the air is revolutionary.   The fact there are so few moving parts allows them to offer service at your home or work options.

The Tesla is warranted for 8 years for the battery and drive train.


Elon has understood like Steve Jobs that users need the holistic problem of a technology to be solved for them to become advocates.   The Tesla had to achieve the same performance or better in every category and be able to do whatever a gas car could.   He did it.   Every objection to owning an electric car has been addressed and every issue, even recharge time has been addressed through replaceable batteries on the underside allows users to replace the battery faster than you can fill your tank with gas.

Performance:  Superior to almost every ICE in the world

Driving Distance:  150-400 depending on driving conditions is the same as most ICE

Safety:  Superior to every car ever built before

Luxury:  Matching in most respects … maybe less in some areas and more in other areas than some luxury ICE

Reliability:  Yet to be proven but so far at least as good as any car built

Cost to buy:  similar to other luxury sedans

Cost to operate: 1/3 the cost of ICEs

Hassle:  The Tesla even with supercharging stations built today is not as flexible to take a trip say down to Mexico or other locations off the beaten path.  Such trips are possible but take some planning although the flexibility of charging off virtually any electrical source means that you won’t be stranded unless you can’t find any source of electricity at all.

It is disruptive in its capabilities and transforms the car owning experience more than any other car since the invention of the ICE.

Precedent Setting and Disruptive Aspects

1) At 1/3 cost to operate due to efficiency of central electrical production and electric motor the car produces less ecological impact than other cars

2) The size of the battery, the charge at home or in garages all over, superstations across the country for free and battery replacement options disrupts the gas service station business as well as other electric vehicles

3) The low maintenance and maintenance at home and the ability to update the car remotely with new features and fix the car, the ability of Tesla to capture real time data to improve service is transformative and disrupts the entire service business for cars.

4) The user interface design, big screen with apps and ability to control the car with an app is precedent setting including the smartness of the car, anticipating your schedule, finding alternate routes, raising and lowering suspension based on experience demonstrate a smart car.  Future upgrades include self-driving capabilities all of which is precedent setting

5) The IOT capabilities including the ability to manage, find, operate the car remotely is precedent setting

6) The ability to upgrade the car over the air or fix it is precedent setting

The Future

The following video demonstrates features Tesla may plan for future versions:  Telsa Z version

When the Android app capability is turned on later this year there will be possibility to do lots more things with the car.   Undoubtedly the most popular apps downloaded at first will be standard android apps like Waze and various entertainment apps.

However, if some functions of the car itself are exposed to apps you can imagine that there may be many additional apps that have to do with functions of the car that broach into security and privacy concerns.   Safety concerns from things as simple as distraction of the driver to apps that actually modify the cars functionality in unpredictable ways that cause a crash. I want to say this is all very speculative.   Tesla has not said what they will enable, if all apps will be able to run in the Tesla or what functions they might make available if any to app writers. In addition Tesla has said they are going to do like Google, Microsoft and Apple and have a reward program for those who discover vulnerabilities.   I hope so.

Tesla ships the Model S with 18 sensors which give it the ability to provide self-driving capabilities for a fee to turn on in software after you buy the car and to improve and upgrade the capabilities over time.   The model D has 4 wheel drive capability with 2 motors and the model X will be a slightly larger SUV model.


Elon Musk has made clear he wants to produce a mass market version of the Tesla in a few years based on new battery technology that will be much cheaper.   The battery factory has been sited initially in Nevada and will reportedly produce more batteries than the rest of the world combined.   It will enable Tesla to get to 500,000 cars a year or more.

IOT Considerations

Network Effect


Once an IOT is available and providing functionality whether it is producing data or is an actor able to do things or both it becomes part of the network effect.   The network effect is the multiplicative impact connected people or devices have.    Usually with a network effect the effect increases in a non-linear way with the number of items that are connected. Some network effects could be negative.  For instance, the ability to reach a large number of cars and hack them may mean for instance making large numbers of cars fail on a highway at once. However, the thing we don’t know is what are the network effects of having lots of IOT’s in the network and people.

New applications we can’t imagine today are possible and could be revolutionary in terms of their impact on our quality of life, efficiency or whatever measure you choose.   For instance if we had lots of people who were being monitored for their various biological parameters could we figure out how to intervene before heart attacks occur or could we diagnose people remotely for diseases or problems?   Could we discover new combinations of drugs or supplements that could be beneficial.  The Tesla may not help with these things but in general we don’t know how all these IoT devices will interact and provide unforeseen benefits.    With devices such as cars are there ways to revolutionize how we deliver transportation or make transportation more efficient, less traffic, lower cost?  Can we discover new ways to deliver things to people?   The car IOT is a good example. One of the things you can do with a car API is to provide eventing.  Eventing means I can be notified if something happens with my car I want to know about such as accident, outside of certain locations, approaching certain locations, running out of washer fluid, going over the speed limit or anything.

You can detect events that occur based on any telemetry and let other people know things or put business processes in that automate activities.   I can monitor the cars operation remotely from the App when others drive it.  If I had an app that monitored the car it could tell me if my son was driving the car unsafely or in areas I didn’t want him to go.  If I was in the construction business I could use eventing to watch the delivery of components needed for the construction and plan the activity around that construction better.    If it is my car maybe things can be done automatically at my destination as I approach it.



Another example of network effect is with bigdata.    Bigdata enables us to look smarter by accumulating lots of detailed information on activity and looking at that detail to figure out patterns that are of interest.   For a car that could be used on the car itself to improve the performance of the car. A company is already doing that with Tesla. Smart Trip Planner It collects data about your cars performance and stores that data for analysis.  Already they use this information to help you more accurately estimate the energy consumed by going on different routes. Boeing uses information like this from planes to fine tune plane performance, reliability and efficiency. Eventually when the Android app capability is turned on later this year there will be possibility to do lots more things with the car and analytics we can produce from the car.


Privacy concerns with the Tesla include the fact you can know where it is and what you are doing and going to as well as how you get there.  People could potentially learn your driving habits or even potentially figuring out you went through a stop sign.     The car links to your cell phone and therefore has access to contacts and other information.   A virus infected car could deliver this information to unscrupulous people potentially.


Privacy broaches security if for instance using the API someone could find and open the car.   If valuable things are in the car this could compromise security as well.   I believe like others that Tesla should implement a 2-factor authentication scheme sooner rather than later for the car.

Here is a video on various ways to help secure IOT and Tesla 

The biggest concern for the IOT of the tesla is not privacy but as a security risk.    Right now Tesla is the safest car in the world ever built according to the NTSA.  However, there are numerous vectors for a Tesla to become an unconventional safety risk.   I doubt there is a way to make the batteries explode but certainly it may be possible to damage the car as well as passengers inside.   One demo of an app showed a passenger able to force the steering wheel to move without the driver having control.   The ability to simply turn the car off in driving mode could be dangerous as well as doing anything to brakes.   There is even the possibility if an app causes the tesla to have to reboot or flashes the screen or driver console in such a way that the car becomes inoperable for a small time while driving.  It’s scary to think of all the ways something could go wrong. The ability to interact with the cars API while the car is in operation could be a serious problem but the fact that nearly all functions of the car are digitized and controllable potentially could mean the exposure could be through apps that are installed on the car or over the air through the API inserting a virus or just using the API in ways that cause problems.   I think Tesla needs to beef up their story around security as do all the IOT vendors in general. Would I suggest someone not buy a Tesla because of these concerns?  No!   Of course not.  These are the kinds of things that are general problems that all car companies and all IOT vendors will have to deal with.  Tesla is just on the leading edge. The Tesla is a fabulous vehicle and I believe that they will address these issues in a timely manner to make this a viable IOT and light the way for others.

Supporting Articles:










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