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♦ Note From The Curator ♦
🎄 Here are the top three articles in this issue of Elon Musk News:
For me, the most exciting piece of content this week was Nat Geo's behind the scenes footage of Elon & the SpaceX team during the Falcon 9's first landing. The video does a wonderful job at highlighting the energy, and significance of this historic event. Even though I knew the outcome, I felt a surge of anxiety watching Elon track the Falcon 9's progress.
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♦ Featured Quote ♦
"Tesla receives highest owner satisfaction score of any carmaker in Consumer Reports survey"
— Elon Musk
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Elon Musk chose the early hours of Saturday morning to tweet out his annual proposal to dig tunnels beneath the Earth to solve congestion problems on the surface. About an hour later he revealed the name and company slogan, presumably with a wink: "It shall be called 'The Boring Company.' Boring, it's what we do."
Musk brought up the tunnel idea a little more seriously almost a year ago, during a question-and-answer session after the awards ceremony for a competition to design passenger pods for the hyperloop:
"It's a really simple and obvious idea and I wish more people would do it: build more tunnels. Tunnels are great. It's just a hole in the ground, it's not that hard. But if you have tunnels in cities you would massively alleviate congestion and you could have tunnels at all different levels; you could probably have 30 layers of tunnels and completely fix the congestion problem in high-density cities. So, I strongly recommend tunnels."
Last night, in National Geographic's (NatGeo) MARS series season finale, previously unreleased behind-the-scenes footage was featured that provided a further glimpse at Elon Musk's reactions to the launch and landing as they were unfolding.
The Spacex Raptor engines are a family of cryogenic, methane-fueled, rocket engines. The engines are specifically intended to power both high-performance lower and upper stages of the Interplanetary Transport Ssystem launch vehicle that Elon Musk is championing to support substantial new technological and economic capabilities in the area of interplanetary spaceflight, particularly with respect to a long-term aim of colonizing Mars. The engine will be powered by densified liquid methane and liquid oxygen (LOX), rather than the RP-1 kerosene and LOX used in all previous Falcon 9 rockets, which use Merlin 1C and D engines. The Raptor engine will have over three times the thrust of the Merlin 1D vacuum engine that powers the current Falcon 9 launch vehicle.
Spacex has not announced that they will use the Spacex Raptor engine to re-engine the Falcon 9 or the Falcon Heavy. However, if they have an engine that is the same size and roughly the same weight but has three times the thrust then why would they not use those engines exclusively?
Yesterday, Consumer Reports released its 2016 list of Car Brands Ranked by Owner Satisfaction through an analysis of over 300,000 vehicles from their annual survey. Tesla topped the list again with 91% of owners saying that they would buy again – significantly more than the second best brand, Porsche, with 84% and way out in front of the pack in the 70's.
Elon Musk just doesn't rest. Not content with taking a break over the holidays, he has been hard at work helping to launch a new software update for the Hardware 2 platform. Recent cars that are based on the new platform will support self-driving functionality when it launches next year, thanks to an array of advanced sensors powering the vehicles.
When the cars arrived, they were missing some of the autopilot features found on the old hardware platform. Auto windshield wipers, parking assist and blind spot detection are all features found in older Tesla models that have yet to surface on the new hardware platform. Some, like side collision warning, have been added back in through post-launch updates.
It seems this divide may soon come to an end. "Looks like we might be ready to rollout most of Autopilot functionality for HW2 towards the end of next week," Musk said on Thursday.
Tesla's Autopilot system has had a few bad trips over the past year, but as of Wednesday evening, Elon Musk says everything is pretty much hunky dory. Musk tweeted that the system's "vision neural net" was now "working well," but needed much more testing on the road.
Musk is big on the concept of "neural networks," or computer systems set up to act like the human brain. He thinks that a form of "neural lace," in which artificial systems are combined with the human brain to enhance its power, could be the way that humanity stays in control of artificial intelligence. In Tesla vehicles, the neural network just applies to a group of systems that work together in a structure that tries to mimic the flexibility of the human brain. The neural net in Tesla's self-driving vehicles mostly regulates the cars' guidance system — in other words, it takes a brain-like computer to make sure the cars don't crash.
Before a recent update that is being gradually pushed to Tesla owners, the automaker allowed its Autopilot to be set at a higher speed than the speed limit on all roads where the driver assist system could be enabled, but now Tesla is pushing a new update to make Autopilot follow the rules of the road more closely.
Owners of Tesla vehicles equipped with Autopilot have, up until now, been able to set the speed of the Autopilot's 'Traffic-Aware Cruise Control' feature to up to 5 mph over the speed limit on roads and non-divided highways. Now they are restricted to following the speed limit exactly, without the 5 mph leeway.
Shortly after Tesla announced it's new plan to curb Supercharger abuse by implementing a $.40 per minute "idle fee" for owners that leave their vehicle plugged in after charging has been completed, the company has amended the policy to better reflect conditions of occupancy at charging stalls when the fee is applied.
Musk took to Twitter Saturday morning to confirm that the rules governing the new policy will be amended to only penalize owners that leave their vehicle plugged in and not charging when the majority of charging bays at that location are already full.
As the Tesla engineering team continues to work around the clock and prepares for launch of the company's newest Enhanced Autopilot under software version 8.1, Tesla owners are taking to YouTube to highlight the level of detail engineers must account for in each sensor.
Beyond the obvious complexity of having to map out an accurate depiction of the world from data fed through eight surround cameras and twelve advanced ultrasonic sensors, engineers must also account for adverse weather conditions that may impact the vehicle's ability to accurately see the world around it.
We recently saw how Tesla's front-facing Autopilot camera was able to melt away snow and ice even before the vehicle was ready to be driven. A new video shot using a FLIR Thermal Imager provides another look at how Autopilot 2.0's new side and rear cameras are also designed for unobstructed view regardless of weather.
Tesla made its own light show using the Model X and its auto-presenting front doors and Falcon Wing doors. To activate the new Easter Egg, Model X owners on the 22.214.171.124.15 software can enter "Holiday" as an 'access code' (holding the 'T' button for 5 seconds). The show will start after you exit the car, close all doors and press the lock button on the key fob. Tesla warns that the show "requires 6-feet of space above and around the vehicle." Some owners already released videos of the show.
The use of lithium-ion battery cells in large energy storage applications is fairly new and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) wanted to know more about what would happen if one were to catch fire.
The conclusion was that if a fire starts from inside a pod, it doesn't propagate to the rest of the Powerpack. And if a fire starts outside the Powerpack, it won't spread to other Powerpacks around it. Of course, there are also several safety features preventing those things from ever happening, but the NFPA's tests were for worst case scenarios.
Mirogrid projects powered by battery packs and solar arrays are starting to become more popular in remote areas. It has started to become clear in the last few months that the Tesla Powerpack is lowering the entry price of microgrid projects.
The company delivered another 20 Powerpacks for a project on an island in the Fijis that just won an award for its concept. The Fiji Sun news reports that the project won an award from the Sustainable Electricity Association of New Zealand (SEANZ) for its concept and that it is now "the largest off-grid solar PV mini-grid in the South Pacific".