What innovations are next for Tesla?
Tesla’s certainly not your ordinary car company. And their recent patent publications bear that out. Sure, there are plenty of innovations that you’d expect from an auto manufacturer at the forefront of pushing new technologies into cars (ie, "Data pipeline and deep learning system for autonomous driving", US Patent Publication 2019/0391587). But Tesla is also active in some areas you may not expect.
Let's dig into the details from their latest patent publications...
Tesla's not just a car company, they are rapidly becoming a semiconductor company as well. Tesla’s FSD (Full-Self Driving) chip was announced back in April 2019 to much fanfare by Elon Musk himself. They are continuing to innovate in this machine learning space with a number of recent patent publications.
"Systems and methods for low latency hardware memory management" (US Patent Publication 2019/0250830) discloses techniques to better optimize processing of data in memory-intensive applications. The publications specifically mentions this could be used in "autonomous driving , security and user authentication processes and other technologies".
They are also looking to improve security in these custom silicon solutions. "Secure initial provisioning of a system on a chip" (US Patent Publication 2019/0332815) concerns the 'provisioning' of a chip, which is the installation of keys and other security information onto the device prior to assembly. Why is this important? According to this patent application, "after manufacture and prior to provisioning, the SoCs are susceptible to malicious attack, which may include loading of malware on the SoC." This specific invention is a sequence of public and private key transactions to protect the chip from outside interference. This method is outlined in the following flowchart from the patent publication:
Beyond autonomous driving, they specifically discuss using this technology in "financial processing systems , ... , medical processing systems , and air traffic control systems".
Tesla looks to continue bringing this core AI processing in-house to create unique advantages over their competitors using off-the-shelf solutions.
The Solarglass Roof project was announced back in August 2016. There have certainly been a number of fits and starts along the way, but the latest V3 roof tiles are now being installed in a few homes. Elon Musk was very coy when asked for specific numbers in the Q4 earnings call, but here's one article of an installation that's currently in progress.
While there is some question about the speed of the rollout, there's no question they are committed to this technology. In the past 6 months, we count 15 patent applications directed towards the Solarglass technology. Here are a couple interesting highlights:
"Solar roof tile module with embedded inter-tile circuitry" (US Patent Publication 2020/0007073) is an invention that embeds circuitry within the tiles, and includes a "busbar" to string together adjacent tiles and maintain electrical connectivity between the string of tiles. The figure below from the patent application shows this in detail:
The horizontal "busbar" is shown, with the electrical connections made via the dark black circles between adjacent tiles.
Beyond the core technology of these roof tiles, Tesla is focused on the commercialization of this product, with a number of patent applications directed towards the interconnection and installation of the tiles.
"PV tile mounting system" (US Patent Publication 2019/0273462) discloses more details of the tile structure, including a bracket that is part of the electrical connectivity between tiles. And "Cascaded solar cell string using adhesive conductive film" (US Patent Publication 2019/0386604) discloses use a conductive adhesive to join tiles and keep an electrical connection between tiles. I'd be a concerned about a conductive adhesive surviving 30 years on a roof in Texas. I'd hope the ultimate solution looks more like the bracket in the previous application as opposed to something that's just glued together.
One concern with Tesla has always been their ability to transform from a niche technology company into a large-scale auto manufacturer. Their recent financial results indicate they have improved significantly in this area. But are they continuing to innovate in their manufacturing processes? These patent publications would indicate they are active in this area.
"Apparatus for multi-axial transfer of objects in assembly lines" (US Patent Publication 2019/0291963) is a solid assembly line patent for transfer of objects on the line. Nice to see Tesla focused on such a nuts and bolts type of invention. And this patent has already been granted (US Patent #10,494,189)
In one last publication, Tesla is still focused on improving their battery manufacturing technology. "Drying procedure in manufacturing process for cathode material" (US Patent #10,541,413) has already issued as a US Patent. This invention is for a technique in manufacturing batteries that dries the cathode in a Li-ion battery using a chamber of inert gas to allow for more rapid drying and speed the production process.
Tesla's not your typical car company. Their recent patent publications certainly reflect this diverse innovative spirit. From building their own silicon to improving the manufacturing lines, Tesla is continuing to innovate to drive their valuation to $1000/share and beyond.
Note : All images are from published patent applications at www.uspto.gov