The Tesla Model S is eight years old, but feels brand new

The Model S, one of Tesla’s most recognisable cars and marques alike, is the best part of a decade old now and not getting any younger.

The car first appeared in June 2012, and has been something of a flagship for Tesla since its creation, distributed all over the world and one of the best-selling electric cars of the last decade. But does it still hold up?

As you can see in the video below below, Jack of the Electroheads video team went to work examining the car, and was surprised just to see how much the vehicle has changed – at least on the inside.

Despite very few visual and exterior changes (mostly reductive, for that sleek modern look), countless downloads and software updates and upgrades have transformed the Model S into something that doesn’t just keep up with the times, but keeps it on the cutting edge. As Jack put it:

“See, this, (the touchscreen interface) is the car. Everything outside of this screen is just seats and a couple of pedals that don’t do anything. Everything about the Model S – from how quickly the door handles pop out to the braking distance, everything – is adjustable over the air. You may not be able to see the changes that Tesla have made, but they are here, and they’re significant.”

Features like automatic self-driving, smart summon and sentry mode have made the car not just unique, but oddly revolutionary. Despite the frequent controversy around the company itself, the car remains one of Electrohead’s favourites when it comes to EVs, partly because it’s always changing, upgrading and enhancing through updates. Even if you bought one back in 2012, it won’t feel like it now – and that’s a hell of an achievement.

It’s a big week for Tesla as records are broken and cars drive themselves

Within the same 24 hours, the firm has defied sales expectations with record numbers, as well as rolling out an experimental beta for a “Full Self-Driving” mode, given to select customers in preparation for a fleet-wide update planned later this year.

Tesla sold nearly 320,000 cars this year alone, despite the effects of the pandemic, and reported $8.7bn in revenue across the three months leading up to September 2020. For those of you keeping score, that marks its fifth quarter in a row of increased profit, an increase in deliveries of 54% over the previous quarter, a 44% year-on-year improvement, and most importantly (we double-checked the maths on this one) a metric buttload of money for Elon Musk.

It’s a bizarre victory, considering the circumstances. Most automakers are struggling considering the current economic and sociological effects of COVID-19, because… well, if nobody’s allowed to go anywhere, why invest in travel? Admittedly, they’ve yet to meet their stated goal of selling half a million cars in 2020, but considering the year isn’t over yet and reality is melting around us, they’re doing surprisingly well. 

And if that weren’t enough to be getting on with, Tesla also released a beta for their Full-Self Driving mode (or FSD for short), albeit to a very small and select list of clientele/sympathetic journalists. If the update works, it means that cars will practically be able to drive themselves, though those with the beta tweeted pictures of a very frantic Terms and Conditions page that told drivers not to relax for even a second, lest their Tesla suddenly get confused and try to ford a nearby river.

Musk originally stated that he wanted a fleet-wide version of this tech out before the end of the year, though recent tweets have said that progress will be “extremely slow and cautious, as it should”, suggesting that we all might have to wait a little longer before we can have A.I. chauffeur us around.

AOC’s first Twitch stream topped 400,000 viewers worldwide

For those who hate it when video games “get all political,” they’ve got two problems: firstly, they’re idiots, and secondly, it’s about to get much harder to avoid now that politicians are getting involved. 

Last night democratic US Representative and congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (often abbreviated to AOC) took to Twitch for the first time to play Among Us, the social stealth gaming fad, to an audience that peaked at 430,000 people. That makes it the third most popular stream in all of Twitch’s history, and helps cement AOC’s reputation as the politician of the current generation.

Among Us, for those who aren’t aware, is a multiplayer online game about being little bean-headed astronauts running around a spaceship trying to get it running. Only problem is, a couple of you are secret traitors out to murder and sabotage everything you see. The traitors have to pick everybody off before the players work out who’s evil and throw them out the airlock. Presumably it’s not wholly dissimilar to a visit to the White House, except in Among Us, evil is a minority.

It’s not a surprise move by AOC – the stream was announced in advance, and she’s well known for being a gamer in her spare time, famous for her love of League of Legends. And the response has been largely positive, which may raise the question: will politicians start flocking online to promote their Lets Play channels?

God, let’s hope not. AOC’s stream is perfectly charming, because A) it’s a real and provable passion of hers, and B) that passion is evident in her performance on screen. Yes, on some level this is probably a political move to appeal to a young audience, but it clearly derives from a hobby she cares about and understands, so why not merge the two thing? Play to your strengths and all that. 

But watching flocks of old men blearily trying to bluff their way through Fortnite while clearly not caring about it in the least? Or stumbling through a copy of Animal Crossing that’s totally their own saved island, and wasn’t just handed to them by an intern moments before? No thank you. On so many levels, no thank you.

Uber plans £5m of EV charging points across London

The global ride-hailing corporation Uber has pledged five million pounds over the next three years, to be spent on creating charging points across London. Specifically, they’re aiming to build them in poorer or under-served boroughs such as Newham, Brent and Tower Hamlets. 

Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, said that: “drivers consistently tell us that having reliable, accessible charging near where they live is a key factor when deciding if they should switch to electric.”

“If we address this challenge for professional drivers now, it will help create a mass market for electric vehicles in the years to come. As we all know this is critical if the UK is to achieve our goal to be net zero.”

The pledge also comes in the wake of Uber’s promise to make all the 45,000 cars in its London fleet electric by 2025, a goal it is currently short of by… er, 44,000. The firm’s lofty ambitions also extend beyond London, with plans for zero emissions in its fleet by 2040. They’ve also made other efforts to steer its workers towards EVs, such as a self-imposed clean air fee in London, and a deal with Nissan made earlier this year for 2000 discounted Leafs for drivers, also in Lahndahn tahwn.

Uber’s pledge to pay for EV charging stations is just the latest initiative designed to encourage environmental change.

If you’re noticing a certain geographical favouritism, you’re not imagining things. Uber seems to have marked the capital as a figurehead of its environmental aspirations, using the city as both a testing ground and public demonstration for all its new initiatives. It makes sense – if you can stay green in a big, smog-choked metropolis, you should be able to do it mostly anywhere. 

Of course, if I were cynical (I know, just imagine), I might say that Uber is straining to be on its best behaviour in London after its license to operate in the city was rejected last year in the wake of serious safety concerns. It was recently reinstated in the face of “improvements”, yet it can’t help but seem like Uber is trying to look as saintly as possible for when that license is  reexamined eighteen months from now. It’s like when you did something naughty as a child, and you started immediately laying the table without being asked in the hope your parents would give you back your Game Boy sooner rather than later. Still, more charging stations in the city won’t be a bad thing, especially considering Uber’s drivers tend to live in the boroughs that need them most.

The Walkcar is a laptop-sized electric vehicle rolling out worldwide

After previously only being available in Japan, manufacturer Cocoa Motors have revealed that the Walkcar e-scooter is now available for purchase worldwide.

The Walkcar’s USP is pretty obvious from the first glance: namely, it’s a dinner tray with four wheels. Roughly the size and shape of a small laptop at 13 inches across, the Walkcar is designed to be as portable as possible when not in use, a flat little gadget you can tuck into a satchel or rucksack. Now it”s available for sale globally, selling from the official Cocoa Motors site at $1980/£1524.70.

Judging by the stats and info available, the Walkcar clearly has its advantages and disadvantages. For one thing, in a world where many people are still trying to adjust to the image of folks happily rolling around on techno-unicycles, seeing somebody being served up on a plain, flat surface like an appetiser at an upmarket bistro is definitely more than a little strange. 

Cocoa Motors’ logic for the minimalist appearance is that “the simple look enhances the fashionability as something to wear and carry around.” One can certainly see their point, as owners won’t have to drag around a tangle of tarmac-stained tires and carbon fibre, instead slotting a sheathe of plastic into their bag as they would a work binder. But while it looks better to carry, it does look slightly strange when being used, lacking the dynamic element that makes vehicles look like… well, vehicles. But beyond that, the official stats for the Walkcar are as follows:

  • 2.9kg weight
  • 13 inches wide
  • 74mm high
  • 16kmh max speed
  • Capable of handling 10 degree inclines
  • 4-wheel independent suspension
  • 3 functionality modes
  • 5–7km distance per charge
  • 60 minute recharge time

They’re fairly unremarkable numbers, though they clearly fit with what Cocoa are going for: a city-specific escooter built for the average commuter, something that can be recharged at work, will comfortably handle the journey either way, and can be handled with the maximum of ease – and that may end up being enough. With certain exceptions, escooters are clearly more at home in metropolitan areas than in the wild, and the Walkcar is the logical endpoint of that thinking: a hybrid of MacBook, bathroom tile and skateboard that’ll get you through the city centre, and comfortably wait inside a magazine rack until it’s time to go home. There are certainly worse business strategies. 

Elon lowers price of Model S for a sex joke, because of course he does

In a characteristic moment of maturity and restraint, Elon Musk announced on Twitter that he would be lowering the price of the Tesla Model S to $69,420, for reasons that will only need explaining if you’re less than ten or more than sixty years old.

The joke was not entirely out of nowhere. Lucid Motors recently announced that their upcoming vehicle, the Lucid Air, would cost $77,400, though most customers would be able to get back $7,500 in tax credit, bringing the price down to $69,900. Namely, about $2000 cheaper than a Tesla Model S.

It’s not the first time that Elon Musk has done something like this, or even made this exact joke. Earlier this year, Tesla started selling shorts with “S3XY” written across the back (referencing the four models of Tesla car), priced at a rather expensive $69.420. Not only that, but back in 2018, Musk tweeted “am considering taking Tesla private at $420,” which caused massive market fluctuations and ended with Tesla being fined $20 million dollars by the US Securities and Exchange Commissions. When the dust had settled, Musk was no longer Chairman of Tesla, was tweeting snark at other members of the company trying to do damage control, and claimed that the whole thing was “worth it,” which… yeah, clearly it wasn’t, for anybody involved.

But let’s take a step back. The actual lowering of the Model S’s price isn’t a bad thing on its own – Teslas are expensive and competitive pricing is good for consumers who want to buy electric – but the fact it had to come bundled with a peurile joke a fourteen year-old would be embarrassed to make (and a repeated one at that) just feels like he’s not taking a very important matter seriously. Still, last time this happened Musk got downgraded from Chairman to Chief Executive. Maybe after all this is done, Tesla will have a new, big-mouthed mailroom worker.

David Beckham to make nearly $20 million after esports investment

After investing $319,000 in Guild Esports back in June this year, David Beckham will be paid between $9 million and nearly $20 million over the next five years as part of a branding deal, giving Guild the right to use his likeness, face and name to market themselves. In fact, this deal was signed the month before Beckham’s investment, so in reality he probably just told them to keep the change.

Specifically, this deal was made between Footwork Productions, which Beckham owns and uses to license his image rights, and Guild Esports, the world’s second largest publicly-traded esport company. The investment has made the former football star their fourth-largest shareholder, though by far and away their most recognisable one. Even the initial investment was enormously publicised by both parties, which presumably helped out Guild enormously when the company was floated on the London Stock Exchange a few weeks ago and earned over $25 million, presumably increasing the value of Beckham’s investment even more.

One can’t help but wonder just what the play here is, having Beckham’s expensive beard all over your promotional material. Esports and normal sports might sound like natural allies, but the two cultures are very different, and I suspect that many gaming fans are secretly rather proud to have keep these worlds distinct; to be part of a unique group. I don’t think most of them will be bothered by his appearance, I just suspect they won’t care. It’d be like having Stephen Fry as the new face of Iceland frozen dinners. 

Perhaps the plan is to try and drag regular sports fans over to the Esports side of things via Beckham’s star power, to lure a whole wave of footballers to gaming and get them invested with a familiar face. Whatever the end result, we know there’s definitely going to be one winner – David Beckham’s accountant.

ElectraMeccanica’s SOLO is a charming, oddball EV

Car, motorbike, moon buggy or Mr. Bean’s newest commuter vehicle? However you see it, the SOLO is a new EV that’s launching in LA for people who like to roll solitary: a vehicle designed for just one driver and no passengers whatsoever.

In theory, it makes a lot of sense. A recent census in America indicated that about 90% of drivers drive on their own, so why bother having three or four extra seats that can’t do more than eat up space on the road? The SOLO, designed by ElectraMeccanica, is here to be just that, though its unconventional appearance (three wheels, one chair, and a chassis shaped like a shoe) might serve to put some people off. In fact, despite clearly, obviously being a car, the SOLO is considered to be a full-enclosed motorbike for the purposes of registration and insurance… Though you only need a regular license, not a motorcycle licence to drive it, so I guess the DMV is as bewildered by this thing as everybody else.

The SOLO’s stats and features are certainly interesting. It’s clearly designed for city use and short distances, with a top speed of 80 miles an hour and about 100 miles in each charge. It’s also tiny – about a quarter the size of an SUV – meaning you’ll likely see this thing beetling around between the fume-belching hummers that make up most of LA’s traffic.

And it will just be LA: so far ElectraMeccania are only selling this thing there as a solution to the city’s horrific traffic problem as well as a cheaper driving option for those who live alone. It’s certainly an interesting notion, though having been to LA, I would point out that the City of Angels does not drive like them. Get at all pushy in this little motorised bean of a car and you’re liable to have a two-ton SUV chase you through Santa Monica.

All the info about the SOLO points to it being more like a scooter than anything else, despite how it looks – and you know what? That’s fine. Cheaper, easier vehicles designed for individuals is a criminally under-served gap in the market, and if ElectraMeccania wants to leap in to fill it, that makes a lot of sense. A range of a hundred miles isn’t a lot, but it’s fine if you don’t usually go further than the outlet mall on the edge of town. 

The SOLO is priced at $18,500, cheaper than pretty much any new electric car on the market (unless you’re buying second-hand), and it’ll be interesting to see if America takes to it, especially considering that the manufacturers are hoping to have the rest of the US buying within the next couple of years.

Tesla releasing “full self-driving” beta next week

Tesla will be releasing an FSD (Full Self-Driving) beta to select Tesla customers next week, says Elon Musk in a comment that was made, of course, via Twitter. 

It’s a feature that’s been teased for a while, theoretically meaning that a car would require almost zero human intervention to navigate between two locations. It could be one of the major steps towards fully autonomous vehicles. 

Tesla vehicles have had autopilot features for a while, allowing them to make large phases of the journey with very little involvement from the driver, but a human being’s input is still required for some of the more fiddly elements. That may change soon, as a tweet from Elon dated October 12th went thusly:

“Limited FSD beta releasing on Tuesday next week, as promised. This will, at first, be limited to a small number of people who are expert & careful drivers.”

It’s still not been made clear who these expert and closed drivers are, implying that it’ll be a closed beta with a pre-selected shortlist of approved testers, rather than just offering this highly-experimental software to anybody who signs up online or likes one of Musk’s tweets. One also can’t help but wonder if certain Tesla-sympathetic news outlets will get copies… but that’d be too cynical, right?

Still, it makes sense. If you’re releasing a new software many won’t be familiar with, you want to make sure it works before it devolves into a literal car crash.

The actual idea of FSD is certainly groundbreaking, though Tesla has stressed that this won’t mean you can take a nap or play on your phone while going to work. You still have to keep your hands on the wheel and pay attention to the road, just in case the software has a panic attack when a line of unregistered ducklings crosses ahead of you. Nonetheless, it’s a major step towards that mythical being: the self-driving truck, and means we’re one step closer to AI ruling the roads.

Engineers claim to have uncovered the “holy grail of battery research”

EV batteries refuse to stay out of the news at the moment, as a team of engineers and researchers from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) claim to have found the “holy grail of battery research.” This was presumably phrased in such a way as not to raise anybody’s hopes too much.

The specific breakthrough is a new kind of lithium battery design based around black phosphorus and graphite, which serves to vastly increase charging time over standard battery models. Whereas a regular car might take between an hour and a day to recharge, the new material enabled the battery to refill itself by more than 80% in under ten minutes. And while such fast-charging batteries exist already, it’s usually compensated for by a drop in maximum charge and lifespan, something that theoretically wouldn’t be the case with these new black phosphorus models. The whole thing is outlined in this very dense academic paper from the journal Science, released on October 9th. 

“The combination of high energy, high [charging] rate, and long cycle life is the holy grail of battery research, which is determined by one of the key components of the battery: the electrode materials,” went a statement from USTC professor Hengxing Ji.

“We aim to search for an electrode material that can make a dent in performance metrics from laboratory research and can hold the promise to stand with the industrial production techniques and requirements.”

Though promising, the truth is that it’s still probably too early to be certain whether this is a real holy grail or one of those trick fast-aging cups from the end of The Last Crusade. As we’ve seen time and time again over the last few years, developing such tech is only half of the battle when it comes to widespread EV acceptance – the second half is mass-producing and implementing this technology in the next generation of EVs. Simply sourcing battery materials is proving a struggle for even the biggest EV companies, and while charging-rates are indeed an issue when it comes to the average Tesla or other EV, there’s bigger concerns that people have: price, accessibility, availability of recharge stations and more.

Still, let’s not degrade or denigrate what could be a very useful discovery in the long run. Not every breakthrough has to be a world-changing headline grabber, and while calling anything “the holy grail” feels like a set-up for disappointment, bringing recharge rates down by such a huge amount is certainly something the USTC might feel proud of.

The new Poimo electric inflatable scooter will adapt to your body shape

Piomo, the inflatable electric scooter/wheelchair, was unveiled earlier this year as a collaborative effort between Kawahara and Niiyama labs of the University of Tokyo, along with mercari R4D of Mercari inc. Now they’ve revealed a follow-up design, which can be tailored and custom-made to accommodate the way you like to sit.

The process seems to be based around photographing yourself in a sitting pose, inputting that posture data into a special program, which then provides a rough outline of the shape your own personal Poimo needs to be. You then get some power to further customize and tweak the design, including the colours, and that final design is what Poimo will send you. Finally assemble and inflate it at home, and you’ll have this peculiar – but presumably very comfortable – balloon animal to ride around on to your heart’s content. The whole process is laid out below in a (slightly obtuse) video from the ERATO Kawahara UIN Project.

It’s a fascinating project with a lot of theoretical advantages over traditional electric scooters. Soft materials are usually safer than hard ones, easier to carry around, and they open up a whole new range of aesthetics for manufacturers and designers to play with. And, of course, the easy alteration allows for users of any body shape and posture. As somebody who slouches so much they keep their vertebrae in their socks, I wouldn’t object to an EV that could be shaped to accommodate that. Making EVs accessible has been a big part of recent industry movements, but that needs to go beyond only making them cheaper or less designed for tech nerds. Keeping varying body shapes in mind is a good direction to take things, and though Poimo isn’t widely available right now, it’ll be a better world whenever it is.