Tag Archives: Teardown

Tesla Teardown Scares Competitors: ‘We Cannot Do This’

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A teardown of the Tesla Model 3 found Tesla is years ahead of the competition on AI and self-driving – as much as six years ahead by one estimate. Tesla’s choice to ignore the traditional supply channel, to design and use its own microprocessors, and integrate much of the control functionality into a single module are cited as reasons for Tesla standing out from the competition.

According to an article in Nikkei Asian Review, a “stunned engineer from a major Japanese automaker … declared, ‘We cannot do it.’”

Nikkei Business Publications recently acquired a 2019 Tesla Model 3 and did a complete teardown of the hardware components. What they found:

What stands out most is Tesla’s integrated central control unit, or “full self-driving computer.” Also known as Hardware 3, this little piece of tech is the company’s biggest weapon in the burgeoning EV market. It could end the auto industry supply chain as we know it…

The module — released last spring and found in all new Model 3, Model S and Model X vehicles — includes two custom, 260-sq.-millimeter AI chips. Tesla developed the chips on its own, along with special software designed to complement the hardware. The computer powers the cars’ self-driving capabilities as well as their advanced in-car “infotainment” system.

Tesla FSD chips.

This massive integration is uncommon in the auto industry, especially out of the desire to separate critical functionality such as self-driving from nice-to-have features such as infotainment, in case the car gets hacked.

Tesla’s original Autopilot system dates to 2014, also called Hardware 1, and “every two or three years, the company pushed the envelope further, culminating in the full self-driving computer.” It would take an automaker such as Toyota or VW – for what it’s worth, the story did not cite GM or Ford – until 2025 to match Tesla, the six-year lead apparently referring to the model year of the car torn apart.

According to the story, the real reason for Tesla’s success may be its willingness to work outside the established supply chain for electronics:

So big automakers apparently feel obliged to continue using complicated webs of dozens of ECUs, while we only found a few in the Model 3. Put another way, the supply chains that have helped today’s auto giants grow are now beginning to hamper their ability to innovate.

Young companies like Tesla, on the other hand, are not shackled to suppliers and are free to pursue the best technologies available. Our teardown underscored this in another way as well.

Most parts inside the Model 3 do not bear the name of a supplier. Instead, many have the Tesla logo, including the substrates inside the ECUs. This suggests the company maintains tight control over the development of almost all key technologies in the car.

Expect big-time pushback from the big suppliers. And they will have fair arguments. It is hubris to assume one group of engineers, even as they’re constantly refreshed and bring in new talent, can have all the answers. In addition, Tesla is making a big bet that it doesn’t need lidar to make self-driving cars work.

We’ve also seen Tesla, being so far ahead, runs into problems sooner than other automakers. Its auto-lane-change feature has changed lanes into the path of other cars, where that of competitors does not. Just this year, there’ve been reports that the teenager trick of taping or painting a 35-mph speed limit sign to 85 mph tricks Autopilot into speeding up. All you’d need to counteract this hack is a common-sense module that says no place in America lets you drive 85 mph within town limits.

We’re also waiting to see how Tesla, and everyone else, will manage self-driving in rain or snow. That calls for smarter, or different sensors, perhaps that look downward (ground penetrating radar) or use different visual frequencies (short wave infrared, or SWIR).

The story cheerleads, in some ways, for Tesla, saying:

And with this hardware in place, Teslas can evolve through “over the air” software updates. Right now, the vehicles are still classified as Level 2 or “partially autonomous” cars. But Musk has stressed that they have all the necessary components — “computer and otherwise” — for full self-driving.

At the very least, this is a wakeup call for the rest of the auto industry. The Tesla mystique continues: sales better than the rest of the industry, the stainless steel pickup trick, and a market value bigger than GM and Ford combined. Tesla stock has more than doubled in the first six weeks of 2020.

Now read:

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Magic Leap Teardown Finds Precious Little Pixie Dust, Tons and Tons of Glue

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When the Magic Leap launched earlier this summer, the reaction from the press and public was muted to say the least. Now, the team at iFixit has gotten their hands on one of the devices and done what they do best — torn it apart for posterity. The kit, they write, is like nothing they’ve reviewed before.

Magic Leap

[Image credit: Magic Leap]

The Magic Leap is made up of two components. There’s the Lightpack, which is where all the computational processing happens, and the Lightwear goggles. There’s a strobing IR projector in the center of the Lightwear goggles (used for depth sensing), as well as four LEDs in each of the lenses that are used for eye tracking. The Lightwear goggles also contain the additional hardware used to track the totem controller (a small black box protrudes from the right side of the headband, containing a magnetic sensor coil).

Those who theorized that Magic Leap would use waveguide optics were proven correct — there are separate waveguides for each color channel (R,G,B) and two separate focal planes, for a total of six waveguides. Here’s iFixit’s cat-friendly demonstration of how the system works (click to enlarge).

WaveGuides

Image by iFixit

The rest of the headset teardown is interesting, but I’ll let iFixit take it from here. What about the Lightpack, where the magic is supposed to happen? The Lightpack, erm, packs a 36.77Wh battery, powering an Nvidia Tegra X2 (Parker) SoC with two Denver CPU cores and four Cortex-A57 cores. Its GPU is Pascal-based and offers 256 CUDA cores backed up by 8GB of RAM and 128GB of onboard storage.

The Lightpack only offers three hours of battery life, despite its largish lithium-ion capacity. It’s also not user-replaceable. Since the Lightwear goggles are literally attached to the Lightpack battery, it means you’ll have to replace the entire device once the battery dies unless Magic Leap announcers some kind of mail-in battery replacement program and handles the swap themselves.

MagicLeapTeardown

Image by iFixit

The device contains a fan (made by CoolerMaster) and a great deal of glue holding it to the top of the heatsink. The image above shows the heatsink peeling away from the components underneath (the fan mounts on top).

All in all, iFixit wasn’t very impressed. While there was some use of standard screws, the entire assembly is heavily glued and difficult to access with many delicate components. Furthermore, the lack of a user-replaceable battery is a minor concern when the hardware in question cost over $ 2,000.

iFixit concludes:

The Leap One is clearly an expensive, short-run piece of hardware. Every bit of construction is intended to maintain the precise calibration for the life of the device. Our guess would be that this was pushed out at full speed, damn the price, just to get something on the market. Let’s hope for a consumer edition that maintains the thoughtful design and dedication to durability, while also avoiding the short-sightedness of this device.

The overall score was a 3/10.

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Tesla Model 3 Teardown: ‘Flaws Like a ’90s Kia’

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The new Tesla Model 3 sedan is having a rocky shakedown cruise as it ships cars at a pace well under projected volumes. A teardown analysis by Munro & Associates suggests Tesla is also shipping well under the quality expected of even the cheapest cars in 2018.

“The [trunk edge] gaps on the car are like you can see them from Mars,” CEO Sandy Munro said of the trunk opening. Some of the issues cited in an Autoline report seem on target, while others may reflect different opinions on how to engineer a car. None of this is good news for Tesla, though.

The gist of the 8-minute video is that Tesla has fit and finish issues on the early cars, and there are safety issues not to the liking of Munro & Associates, an Auburn Hills, Michigan, technical analysis consultancy formed in 1988, around the time US automakers realized they couldn’t ignore the results of the J.D. & Associates surveys showing Japan kicking USA butts on quality control. “I can’t imagine how they released this [Model 3]. It’s just a surprise, a really big surprise to me,” said Munro. “I don’t know how it got to this point. These are flaws we’d see on a Kia in the ’90s or something.” Sorry, Kia.

Munro noted widely varying gaps in body seams, rattling window glass when the front doors close, and a flush-mount door handle that’s hard to use for people with hand infirmities. The trunk requires considerable effort to open or close, he said. “The tolerance stackups on this car like nothing we’ve ever seen before.”

Complexity Gets in the Way of Safety?

Tesla Model 3 emergency response guide. We found it in 15 seconds.

One of Munro’s concerns was the ease of emergency responders accessing the car when the power is off. To open the front hood requires removing an access circle in the front bumper, pulling out red and black wires, and attaching a 12-volt battery to pop the hood. Once the hood is open and a modesty panel removed, it’s easy to see the red loop of wire to double-cut and de-energize the high-voltage power pack.

Munro showed the front seat has both an electromechanical release button on the front door armrest, and a mechanical release down low in the door. (That’s common practice on all cars with electronic door openers.) He pointed out the rear door has only the electronic release and said it would be difficult for back seat occupants to pull open the rear seat backs, crawl into the trunk, and use the emergency inside trunk release to get out. He said they could also crawl into the front seat and out the front doors. As most people would do.

There’s also a second power cutoff accessed by making a saw cut in the right rear fender. To see a how-to diagram, you have to pop the trunk for instructions and even then, Munro says, it’s not entirely clear where to make the cuts.

All this complexity might make it hard for emergency responders to know what to do when arriving at an accident. Possibly, possibly not. It took me 15 seconds googling “tesla model 3 emerg__” to find the Tesla Model 3 emergency response guide online; it also works if you search on “tesla model 3 first respond__” and the guide pops up.

The points on fit and finish are well-taken. Tesla has some issues with seam gaps, rattles, and padding glued atop more padding to address other issues.

We’ve asked Tesla for comment and will add it when the company responds.

Autoline video of Munro & Associates Tesla Model 3 teardown initial analysis.

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