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Tesla Co-Founder JB Straubel hints at forthcoming autonomous driving and battery breakthroughs [Video]
Posted on May 27, 2016 by Matt Pressman
Last week, Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA) Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer JB Straubel was a keynote speaker at the International Transport Forum in Leipzig, Germany during an Open Ministerial Session titled, "Accelerating the transition: Innovation for greener and more inclusive transport." Straubel spoke at the session and received some challenging questions afterwards. He addressed standards for both electric vehicle charging and autonomous driving but focused mostly on "three main innovation forcing trends" which he defined as electric propulsion technology, environmental pressure, and autonomous technology.
Above: Tesla's Co-Founder and CTO JB Straubel (Source: Gigaom)
Straubel was extremely confident about the future for Tesla and electric vehicles (EVs) as he predicted: "All ground vehicles are going to migrate towards electric." And when discussing EV batteries, Straubel explained: "much better batteries are possible" as he's seeing both "chemistry innovation and materials science innovation." He continued, "We're seeing performance improvements, not just cost reductions... [as evidenced by] more energy in the same volume of materials." He also mentioned, "similar improvements happening in power electronics... controls, software and computing. [These] are creating massive improvements in efficiency... and electric motors we're [also] seeing fairly rapid improvements."
Above: Tesla Co-Founder JB Straubel's Speech and Highlights from the International Transport Forum's Open Ministerial Session (Source: IntTransportForum)
Regarding autonomous technologies, Straubel proclaimed, "the improvements happening in this space are phenomenal. The improvements in this space we can see in months, not years." He continued explaining that vehicle autonomy is, "ultimately inevitable... the trends here are irreversible, we're not going to see them slow down or stop, and, full autonomy will be ultimately will be achievable from a hardware capability point of view much sooner than most people expect - in a matter of years, not decades."
Above: Tesla's JB Straubel at International Transport Forum (Instagram: @alghis812)
When discussing legacy automakers, Straubel noted that, "The nature of a lot of the technology of these new problems is not the same as the nature of the technology that was addressed in many cases by large OEMs... large car companies or truck companies are not focused on software, not focused on sensors or batteries." In this statement, Straubel really emphasizes a key differentiating factor between the legacy OEM's and Tesla Motors. This, in a nutshell, explains a critical advantage that Tesla has versus the older internal combustion engine automakers.
Above: Tesla's 18650 lithium-ion batteries made by Gigafactory partner, Panasonic (Source: PBS News Hour)
When questioned about the Tesla Model 3 production ramp, Straubel notes, "It's a wonderful problem to have... [as we have] more demand - we can put our focus on production ramp-up, supplier ramp up. This is a challenge - not to understate that - but it's a very high-class problem for us to have. We do believe we can accelerate this - we've had close meetings with all our key suppliers and with many of our internal production and factory managers and we see a way to nearly double production rate increase and production ramp-up."
Above: Tesla's forthcoming Model 3 (Source: Tesla Motors)
Straubel displayed great enthusiasm and confidence relative to Tesla's future. From his rhetoric it's likely (albeit hypothetical) that Tesla may have some breakthroughs in both autonomous technology and battery technology which may soon be revealed. If not, he seems very convinced that they're fast-approaching. In any event, it's exciting to see Straubel so passionate about the bright future that lay ahead for Tesla Motors.