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Even If A UFO Lands In The Middle Of The Street, A Self-Driving Car Should Function Properly, Says Elon Musk

Sandy Munro is an automotive engineer, who specialises in machine tools and manufacturing. He has a YouTube channel named “Munro Live”, where he steps behind the doors of a world-renowned engineering and manufacturing consulting firm. He calls many famous personalities from the automotive world for interviews. His latest video interview features none other than Tesla CEO Elon Musk. The following article covers the first part of this interview and talks about the various technical points that Musk and Munro discussed.

Problems with Quality Control

To start things off, Sandy talked about the recent quality control issues that Tesla is facing. The company has received a lot of backlash from the common public for very minimalistic things that Tesla overlooked during the assembly. There have been cases of roofs flying off, bumpers falling down and whatnot. Sandy also questioned Elon on the distinct difference in overall finish and quality of two vehicles bought two months apart. Musk explains that Tesla has improved quality control a lot in the past month or so. Sometime around the end of December, the company started a more comprehensive quality control procedure. This has resulted in a difference between the cars bought in November 2020 and those bought in January 2021.

Furthermore, Musk also commented on the general timeline of their vehicles. He said that the best time to buy a Tesla is either right at the beginning (at the time of launch), or when the production process has reached a stable state. During the up-ramp of the production, however, the company has to juggle a lot of things such as bringing in new innovative tidbits while working on volume production. In such cases, it might so happen that quality control gets overlooked. However, he assures the public that these events are one-off incidents, and Tesla is doing its best to prevent this.

The Issue with Volume Production

In Musk’s words:

Production is hell!!

Issues like paint not drying fast enough come up when a company moves from initial sales to volume production. In such cases, a delay of one or two minutes causes huge delays. Musk patted his own back in a way too, saying that Tesla is probably the first American company after Chrysler to achieve volume production while not compromising on reliability and affordability.

Sandy also lauded Tesla’s efforts. He said that he always recommends Model Y and 3 to people who ask which electric vehicle to buy, in that order.

The Discussion about Tesla’s Seats

While this topic may seem quite odd, or even unheard of in other interviews and articles, Sandy was very vocal in his praise for Tesla’s seats. In his own words, “Tesla’s seats are phenomenal.” Musk talked about the importance of minimizing pressure peaks in the design of the seat. The pressure peaks can cause discomfort, sometimes even injury, to the passengers. He also mentioned that the seat of the early Model S was one of the worst he’s ever sat on. However, since Tesla designs and manufactures its own seats, he feels that this is under control.

Tesla Interior

Sandy mentioned that companies should manufacture anything that is part of the human-vehicle interface in-house. And this includes seats as well. He also mentioned that in his recent travels, he had to sit on the seat of his Model 3 for long hours, but it never bothered him. Musk added that the period from the launch of Model 3 to present-day has seen a lot of improvement in seat design and comfort for Tesla.

Tesla Autopilot – Beta Testing

The beta testing of the new Autopilot system has been in the news for some time now. The initial reactions to this system were amazing, and Tesla slowly increased the customer base for beta testing, thus raking in a large amount of data. And among the fans of this new Autopilot system is Sandy Munro as well.

According to Sandy, the few problems that the new Autopilot is facing are not due to internal flaws. Conversely, the problems lie with the road signs and markings across different states. Sandy asked Musk how they plan on clearing the regulations across different legislations for autonomous vehicles. Musk said the question is not about how well-marked the roads are, but how robust the system is. He said:

“Even if all markings are wrong and a UFO lands between the road, the car should function correctly”

The base directive of any autonomous system should be ‘don’t crash’. The company is working on the system so as to minimize the probability of impact. It should not depend on whether the road markings are correct or not. The vehicular system should be robust enough that it learns the situations properly and takes the right decisions every single time.

Sandy’s Experience with Autopilot

Sandy was extremely vocal about the wrong markings on roads, which can confuse the Autopilot system. At one point, there was an older off-ramp, accompanied by a new one, wrong lane markings for both, and a bunch of cones and flashing lights too. In this case, even a human can err; the Autopilot is still a computer. But in the event of a crash, media would have blamed Tesla and not the wrong markings on the highway, and that is something Sandy wants to highlight.

The veteran automotive engineer has sat in F18s, flown the C17 through a simulator, and thus, he doesn’t have inexperience when it comes to Autopilot. But, according to him, the experience of the beta testing of Tesla Autopilot was something out of this world.

When asked how many lines of code went into the software of the Autopilot, Musk said that lines of code are not a good measure of the complexity of a program. Any good program should be accurate and concise, and that is what they attempted with the Autopilot system.

In the second part of this interview, Sandy discusses topics such as megacastings, material science and structural battery packs with Elon. You can watch the entire interview here:

Mihir Tasgaonkar
Mihir Tasgaonkar
A mechanical engineer who loves reading and writing about new technologies in the automobile industry.


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