Posted on March 19, 2016 by Matt Pressman
Guest Blog Post: Nathaniel Fisher is a North Carolina-based, creative tech fanatic who co-started StickyLife.com. As a self-proclaimed process improvement specialist, he enjoys finding solutions to complex issues. He currently follows Tesla, Apple, Hyperloop, and SpaceX and is on the look-out for other forward-thinking, high-tech companies and solutions.
Many who grew up in the 80’s will remember the popular Knight Industries Two Thousand vehicle. What? No, you say? This car was one of the most iconic and impressive vehicles in history. How could you not remember KITT from the popular 80’s TV show. Knight Rider? Okay so it wasn't a production car or even a real car, for that matter. It did, however, leave a lasting impression on many people for what a car could be.
The Knight Rider TV show featured a vehicle that was so far advanced it could drive itself, talk to the owner like a friend and help provide protection unlike any backseat driver has ever been able to do.
Years ago when the original show aired (1982-86) few people would have ever dreamed that this futuristic car intended for TV would ever become a reality. I, however, see some similarities between KITT and what Tesla has produced with the Model S and Model X, and soon with the Model 3. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of KITT and the Tesla Model S:
Tesla's Model S and Model X are both self-driving in certain situations. One of Tesla's primary goals is to develop the world's first production-based, autonomous vehicle and eliminate the human factor that causes accidents and unnecessary fatalities. In the show Knight Rider, KITT could drive itself without any human interaction.
GREETS DRIVER UPON APPROACH
KITT was able to scan and recognize when Michael (the car's owner, played by 80’s icon David Hasselhoff) when he would approach the vehicle. Tesla vehicles recognize when the owner approaches and welcomes the owner by extending the door handles. A decent security measure for those who are not authorized for entry into the vehicle. The only thing missing from a Tesla Model S is a verbal greeting from the vehicle. As artificial intelligence continues to improve this may be a future enhancement. What do you think, Elon? Shall we give Teslas a voice? Of course, you could do this...
COMPUTER CONTROLLED POWER SYSTEM
It's no secret that Tesla vehicles are powered by a 100% electric motor. The sound (if you can hear it at all) sounds very similar to KITT’s computer controlled turbo drive transmission. Though KITT was officially powered by hydrogen gas the sounds effects used in the show sound more like a high pitch whine of an electric motor.
Though torque was never mentioned in the show (that I am aware of), KITT always seemed to have the same amount of torque at any speed, just like at take off. Because Tesla vehicles do not have to change gears and pull their drive directly from the electric motor, the driver has the same level of power at any given speed. You could do a burnout at 60 MPH just like you can at 1 MPH. And some Teslas truly deliver "Ludicrous" torque...
Part of Teslas ability to drive itself includes the ability to read heat signatures on the side of the road to protect against collisions with people and animals. KITT also employed heat-reading vision.
RESPONSIVE TO VERBAL COMMANDS
Okay so this isn’t exactly a very strong comparison. KITT was able to accept full verbal commands. Tesla vehicles are only currently able to take commands for phone dialing, audio play, and basic navigation commands. Maybe one day Teslas will expand its repertoire.
VIDEO DISPLAY MONITORS
KITT and Teslas both have display monitors that can stream live video feed, take or make phone calls, provide driving directions and much, much more. Tesla's 17” monitor is a huge improvement over KITT's little 6” (estimated) screen.
The Anamorphic Equalizer was KITT’s "electronic eyes” and would allow the car to see in all visual wavelengths including X-Ray and infrared. Teslas in comparison also have scanners similar to KITT’s Anamorphic Equalizer. These active sensors include cameras, radar and ultrasonic sonar. Here's my photoshop rendering of what this might look like on a Tesla Model S...
PROGRAMABLE WINDOW TINTING
This is one thing that Tesla has yet to accomplish. Imagine having your windows tinted to 100% opaque so that no one can see inside your vehicle while you're away, allowing you to hide valuables in plain sight. Reduce your tinting when traveling for easier visibility and avoid an undesirable ticket by your local law enforcement for exceeding the window tint limits.
Because Tesla uses an electric motor, the vehicle makes very little noise, if any at all. A person can start the car and drive by without you even realizing it. KITT also featured a special Silent Mode in Episode 37, “White-Line Warriors”.
HIGH TRACTION DROP DOWNS
The high traction drop-downs on KITT automatically raised and lowered the vehicle for better traction when driving off-road. Similarly the Tesla Model S now provides an automatic suspension change for greater clearance on difficult road or in case someone needs to drive over a tow-hitch.
TELEPHONE COM LINK
At the moment you can bluetooth your phone to a Tesla Model S and carry on a conversation but there is no current option to video chat on the large format Tesla Model S display. This would be a great feature and will make Michael Knight's KITT display monitors look like toys. In the TV show Michael Knight communicated with KITT through his watch. I anticipate that in the near future Tesla Motors will have an OEM app it offers for the Apple Watch that allows the driver to communicate with his or her Model S. There is, however, a third party app that has some promise on this front...
I'm a process-improvement kind of guy and enjoying finding solutions. At the moment the Model S does not offer a medical scanner (that I am aware of) but a device like this could be quite handy for a variety of reasons. A few years ago my wife and I semi-assisted in helping a diabetic who was having an issue while driving. The driver blew through a few stop lights and was swerving in and out of traffic. We were fortunate to get the person pulled over before they hurt someone. As fully autonomous vehicles are the future, there needs to be an intermediate option that helps ensure drivers are still paying attention to the road and traffic conditions. With the addition of a medical scanner on the steering wheel or in the dash of the Model S, the vehicle could help contact emergency medical support if the driver is having a serious health issue. KITT's medical scanner included an electrocardiograph and could also monitor the vital signs of individuals and display them from his monitors.
Think twice about stealing a Tesla vehicle. Even if you are successful and can get away with the car, be ready to look over your shoulder for cherries and berries. The Model S includes GPS connectivity to allow remote tracking. In addition, with Tesla's autonomous initiatives, the owner can summon their car to pick them up or come to their aid. KITT was able to locate Michael in extreme emergencies when Michael activated a homing beacon that was hidden inside a gold pendant he wore around his neck. The Tesla Key Fob could contain a special homing beacon or this could be done through your smart phone.
These comparisons are fun and entertaining and there are more that I am sure have not yet been discussed but... it does beg the question: was Michael Knight's KITT an inspiration to Elon Musk like some of his other 80’s shout outs? Is Elon attempting to build an empire built on a TV show or is this simply an example of art becoming life -- that is instead of life imitating art?