Developing Radar Alerts for Tesla Model S and Model X

Guest Blog Post: Jorge Sierra is a fellow member of the Florida Tesla Owners, and has been a Tesla Model S owner since June of 2014. Jorge loves driving electric, and has been averaging about 30,000 emission free miles per year since having first taken delivery. He hopes to some day find a steal on a Tesla Roadster.

How It Began

I’ve always been somewhat of a programming hobbyist, tinkering with code on the weekends. It wasn’t long after I purchased my Model S that I began researching applications and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for the Tesla Model S, to see if I could build a cool a little project designed to work in my car.  There were a few applications out there that did some nifty things, but being that there were so few, I knew there might be some opportunity to do something new and exciting.

Above: Sierra and his Tesla Model S

The Universal Problem of Tesla Ownership

The Tesla Model S and Tesla Model X are incredibly quick and quiet vehicles. The vehicle responds to every impulse from your foot onto the accelerator, to the point that it feels as though the vehicle is reading your mind. Before you know it, you’ve exceeded the speed limit. And therein lies the universal problem of Tesla ownership: managing to obey the speed limit.

Above: It's so tempting to drive the Tesla Model S fast (Photo: Ars Technica)

Radar Detectors to the Rescue

Radar detectors have been around for as long as radars, and drivers have long been using them to help ensure they stay within posted speed limits. However, with Tesla's specially nickel-coated windshields designed keep out UV rays, the Model S and Model X present some unique challenges for radar detectors. You cannot simply mount a standard radar detector to the windshield or dashboard, as many electromagnetic waves cannot come in or go out through the windshield due to the special coating.

Above: Coating on Model S windshield can be a problem for many radar detectors

There are some options available, but these radar detectors can be incredibly expensive (around $2,000) and complex to install in the Tesla Model S and Tesla Model X. In today’s day and age, many drivers rely on mobile applications to report and receive reports on police activity, as the information provided by other drivers is often more reliable than radar detectors. This became the inspiration for Radar Alerts and it helped to solve the universal problem of Tesla ownership.

Above: Radar Alerts for Tesla owners

Filling the Gaps

So why would anyone want to use an in-car app instead of an existing mobile application that solves the same problem? Mobile applications for police trap notifications fall short in a few ways.  For one, mobile applications cannot take advantage of the tremendous real estate offered by the Tesla Model S and Tesla Model X center console touchscreens.  It’s much easier and safer to glance over at the main display, than it is to fumble around for a phone or try to read a small screen mounted on the windshield. In addition to providing a much larger display, Radar Alerts also provides other features that other mobile applications often lack:

  • The app display will automatically switch to night mode before sunrise and after sundown
  • When the vehicle is within 1 mile (1.6 km) or 60 seconds of approaching a reported alert, the screen flashes red and blue, alerting the driver via peripheral vision
  • The app provides an avionics-style display, keeping the driver well-informed of his or her surroundings
  • The app also provides a list of radar alerts, which can be expanded by increasing the vehicles browser to full-height and/or disabling the avionics-style radar display
  • In addition to the screen flash, the app also provides an ETA for the approaching alerts

Above: Quick Demo of Radar Alerts features and functions

Bringing Radar Alerts to the Masses

After having developed an early prototype, I showed it to some fellow Tesla owners as well as members of the Florida Tesla Enthusiasts.  The early feedback was encouraging, so I approached the good folks at EVANNEX about helping me to launch the app. I always enjoyed conversing with them at local events, and I knew they were the perfect team to get the app off the ground.

Above: Enjoying the performance of the Model S (Photo: Motor Trend)

Product Launch

Being a weekend project, as you would expect, it took quite some time to develop and launch the product (about 9 months).  Just when I would think it was ready for primetime, something else would come up and I had more work to do.  We also had to work with the EVANNEX product launch schedule as well.

Above: Sierra showing some of the features of Radar Alerts

About a week before the full launch, EVANNEX published the Radar Alerts info page as well as links to it from their interior products page (a “soft launch”, with no promotion or advertising).  We received a few inquiries each day and even a few signups, which was very encouraging.  We made some tweaks here and there, but there were no major issues.

Above: The Radar Alerts interface 

We launched last week, and things have gone very well.  Customers and prospective clients have provided us with invaluable feedback, and we’ve made some adjustments along the way.  If you’re a Tesla Model S or Model X owner and suffer from the universal Tesla ownership problem of the “need for speed”, you should definitely check out Radar Alerts.