GeekNights Thursday - Cars


I would say that is innovative. Also, from what I’ve read by battery experts, their battery controller chips are innovative in ways that I don’t understand because I’m not an expert, but had nothing to do with chemistry.

It seems you are making the same argument that people make about Apple and Steve Jobs, that they don’t actually invent anything. I appreciate that argument, but I can’t help that it misses the point.

It goes: They didn’t invent anything, they just took product A with major issue B and solved it in way C that had never been done before by all previous manufacturers. Therefor C isn’t really an invention, because A already existed.

But nobody is impressed with Apple or Tesla for inventing A, but by solving B and showing how C is the new standard way to make it.


Not really, though? The argument against Steve Jobs is fine, he’s an organizer, not personally an innovator, and that’s okay, because you need people like that as much as the innovators. But you can’t argue that Apple doesn’t innovate.

In the case of Tesla, we have much more insight, because they made a big song and dance about releasing all their patents - we can look at their battery patents, which include their controllers, and while they’re an extremely clever use of existing technology, it’s not really innovative as a whole - the only one that really stands out is the Model 3 pack, which is the first to include some Tesla-developed ASICs, boards, and technology rather than much more common parts. It is innovative, but it’s also a very recent innovation, and not really what Lou meant, considering that the parts that are genuinely innovative, are the parts that they’re not sharing(and thus not “Improving the tech”, since they’re only really improving it for themselves.)

I’ll also give Apple more credit for innovation, since they’re at least putting components together to make something new - Putting cells in series to increase output is an idea so old that it wasn’t even novel to the eponymous Tesla, let alone the corporation, I’m not giving them credit for “Well, we can fit it in a different space if we use different sized batteries”, because that’s obvious beyond belief.


So who gets the credit for making the entire floor of the car a battery? I’m not trying to be funny. Did another car company do this before them? Or were all batteries more square and taking up a different volumes within the car, and then Tesla decided to put them all flat on the bottom of the car?

The “obvious beyond belief” is always what people say after the fact about technological innovations. Like swiping to unlock a phone. Or how onscreen keyboards work. But it turns out someone invented swipe to unlock. Did someone not invent the large flat battery pack that Teslas use?

Edited to add: What I’m also getting at is using many small batteries that can be made up into packs of any size and shape, including things like the power wall and electrical infrastructure stuff, all built on the same technology and manufacturing processes and scales at the gigafactory.


That’s a hard question to answer(which also led me down an interesting rabbithole, thank you), because a lot of Electric cars before Tesla were home-builds and conversions. However, one of the common modifications was to weld in a floor or bins-type spaces between the frame rails, and some or all of the batteries in there as space allowed, because there wasn’t enough space in the boot and the engine bay to put in enough batteries to provide a workable range, and layering in hundreds of 18650 cells is out of the reach of most people and smaller companies. In the days when Edison and Ford were still kicking around, Alexander Churchward designed and Samuel Wilson built an extremely rudimentary electric car that placed the batteries down low, between the rails, and under the passengers. But there’s also some evidence that Thomas Davenport’s electric car designs had the batteries down low, but we don’t have enough evidence to prove it for sure, since he disassembled his car, didn’t file for a patent, and used the rig from the car to power a printing press.

And that’s the point we’re not seeing eye to eye on. You’re think it’s a technological innovation, when I don’t think it is.
It’s batteries wired in series with a controller, and built to a form factor. It’s literally the same technology that’s been in every laptop computer since before Tesla was founded, just scaled to a larger size. It’s got a fluid cooling unit instead of an air-cooling, but that’s a necessity with the amount of heat those batteries can produce. I get where you’re coming from, but I just disagree, the way I see it, ordering a double Quarter pounder instead of a Quarter Pounder isn’t innovation, even if you get them to hold the onion.

Those aren’t really that obvious, I think, but I’m not a UI/UX designer, so I don’t know. I certainly never would have invented it. Not my strength.

Yes, of course. It didn’t grow on a tree, after all. Someone had to design and build it. But that doesn’t make it some innovative new technology.

Fair enough, but the idea of using existing parts and processes to make multiple products is literally something that every automotive company does, as do many other manufacturers. In manufacturing, specialization is death. Tesla just did it to make things for sister companies making products much more dissimilar than say, cars and trucks, or forklifts and bobcats, which is clever and less common, but they’re hardly the first to do it, and it shouldn’t be a surprise - their roots are as a small car company, using off the shelf components, nose-to-tail manufacturing is baked into their roots.

They deserve credit for a lot of things - making electric cars cool again, showing that there is a larger market segment than previously thought wanting electric cars, that traditional marketing structures are not the way forward, making a strong case for greater corporate diversification without siloing. But what we’re talking about, it’s not really that innovative in my view.


I can see your points here… and what constitutes “innovation” can sometimes be difficult to quantify. Tesla’s “innovation” is probably more iterative than radical and world-changing (i.e. scaling up laptop batteries, like you said), but it is something new that hadn’t been done before. Combined with some of the other things they did, it is resulting in opening up a new market for electric cars. They also were the first to actually make mass-market electric cars with a practical range (200+ miles as opposed to 60 or so), even if that was just a case of iterative improvements of existing tech instead of dramatic new breakthroughs.


Yeah, I agree. It’s cool to think about big leaps forward, and sometimes they are necessary(say with Self-driving cars, where we have big issues to overcome that will be by definition big leaps forward even if they’re solved with iterative processes), but I think we don’t give enough credit to iteration over innovation. Iterative improvement may not be a big innovation, but it’s the majority of how we got to where we are today, technologically at least.


This is important because it’s responsible for why there’s more charging stations at gas stations, parking structures and parking lots in the wild. Really drives home why incremental improvement is how you change the world.