The Tesla IoT Car : Case Study

The Tesla automobile is a big example of the Internet of Things and potential problems and benefits of this idea.


IOT properties of the Tesla 

1) The Tesla has a persistent 3G cell connection to the internet that is paid for gratis by Tesla.   This makes it one of the “Internet of Things”  It also has Wifi, bluetooth and garage door opener built in. 2) The car has an API!  Tesla API 3) The car can provide Geolocation information 4) The car has attitude (angle) and various other sensors for acceleration 5) The car has a camera (in the back) 6) The car could be lethal to both passengers and others if it were hacked inappropriately 7) Tesla has reportedly formed an early warning threat detection and reward system to reward hackers who discover vulnerabilities in the cars security 8) The car can detect the presence of a key fob within a small distance of the vehicles perimeter 9) Virtually all aspects of the cars functionality are digitized and theoretically available for inspection and utilization including energy use, positions of wheels, brakes and emergency brake, climate system, seat positions, mirrors, door handles … 10) The car has an “App framework” that allows developers to build apps to run in the car. This will be enabled in late 2014 with the addition of a Chrome browser and android app compatibility.  Currently there are only a couple internet music apps that are built into the car. 11) The car has a browser with geolocation capability and a map application 12) The car has a horn, lights for external signaling as expected 13) The car can be woken up from a sleep low energy state over the air and booted up at any time needed to query or operate the car 14) The car can take in new versions of its software and firmware and upgrade itself automatically. 15) the car has a 17″ touchscreen console for controlling all functions and a video console for the drivers speedometer and other driving  information 16) The car has a smart charging system that can adapt to almost any electrical source that is plugged into the car.  Adapters for things like RV hookups, Clothes dryer plugs as well as standard 110V and 220V configurations are supported.  The car can also accept up to 500Amps of current in DC mode for quick charging.  It has the ability to regulate the power consumed to the capability of the line it is connected to and to reduce consumption as the batteries can accept as well as allowing the user to designate lower power levels and even a timer to control when it starts charging.

Functionality of the Car Itself

2013-Tesla-Model-S-interior-1 1t4hg8KbzDRyDvQY7bYt2pA


The functionality of a car is well known.   The Tesla is a fully functional car with extraordinary performance.  Even the slowest version of the Tesla is faster than most high performance sedans from luxury car makers in the world and the performance version is at least as fast as any sports car costing 5 times its price.


It is 3-5 times less expensive to drive per mile than even fuel efficient ICE cars (Internal combustion engine car) and the maintenance of the car is minimal considering the number of moving parts in the car and components that could wear down are a small fraction of an ICE.  There are no oil changes, belts to replace, spark plugs or wearable components other than brakes and tires.  There is some concern that millions of ICE car workers could be put out of a job because the car simply doesn’t need maintenance like ICE cars do and if at home charging takes off then many thousands of service stations might go out of business as well.   That’s disruptive. Since the car has so few moving parts the body can be built with no-compromise aerodynamic and safety considerations.


The Tesla was ranked by the NTSA and Consumer reports as the safest car ever built and the most efficient.    The NTSA had their “car breaking” machine broken by the Tesla.   The Telsa broke the machine after applying a force equivalent to 4 Teslas stacked on the roof of the car the machine ran out of steam.   The NTSA also was unable to flip the car since the Tesla battery is positioned on the floor.  The car had a safety rating that was higher than any other car ever tested overall and in all 5 categories it tests for.  No passenger in a Tesla has been seriously injured or killed in its short history so far as far as I can tell and Elon has said this as well.   Recent reports of fires have not been life threatening or injurious to anyone.

Battery Life

The biggest consideration with the car like almost any IOT is the battery life.   The Tesla will drive between 150 and 400 miles depending on the battery configuration, speed you drive the car and various options you use while the car is on.   It has various smart configuration options to reduce power consumption and ways of telling you how you are using the cars power now and over various time periods for you to learn how to optimize its performance.     Tesla is building a network of hundreds initially (covering more than 95% of US population in 2014) and possibly thousands of supercharging stations over the next several years (worldwide)  where you may charge the car from empty to half full in 20 minutes or replace the battery with a fully charged replacement battery in 90 seconds( a lender battery), twice as fast as the time it takes to fill an ICE car with liquid dinosaur even at a fast pumping station.


There are <25,000 Teslas on the road but already its sales have impacted BWM and Mercedes causing them to report declining sales for 2013 for their luxury sedans. Every 2-4 weeks Tesla issues software upgrades to the car via wireless connection.  The latest upgrade improved the way the variable height suspension system works, improved the cars handling on steep hills when at a stop, improved the bluetooth coonectivity, improved the way the car measures range left and energy usage and a number of other things.  Previous versions have fixed charging problems with faulty household wiring which caused fires.   The ability of Tesla to fix the car without needing to go into a shop and over the air is revolutionary.

The Future

The following video demonstrates features Tesla may plan for future versions:  Telsa Z version

When the Android app capability is turned on later this year there will be possibility to do lots more things with the car.   At first standard android apps like Waze and various entertainment apps that already exist will be the big apps downloaded undoubtedly.

However, if some functions of the car itself are exposed to apps you can imagine that there may be many additional apps that have to do with functions of the car that broach into security and privacy concerns.   Also safety concerns from things as simple as distraction of the driver to apps that actually modify the cars functionality in unpredictable ways that cause a crash. I want to say this is all very speculative.   Tesla has not said what they will enable, if all apps will be able to run in the Tesla or what functions they might make available if any to app writers. In addition Tesla has said they are going to do like Google, Microsoft and Apple and have a reward program for those who discover vulnerabilities.   I hope so.

IOT Considerations

Network Effect

Once an IOT is available and providing functionality whether it is producing data or is an actor able to do things or both it becomes part of the network effect.   The network effect is the multiplicative impact connected people or devices have.    Usually with a network effect the effect increases in a non-linear way with the number of items that are connected. Some network effects could be negative.  For instance, the ability to reach a large number of cars and hack them may mean for instance making large numbers of cars fail on a highway at once. However, the thing we don’t know is what are the network effects of having lots of IOT’s in the network and people. New applications we can’t imagine today are possible and could be revolutionary in terms of their impact on our quality of life, efficiency or whatever measure you choose.   For instance if we had lots of people who were being monitored for their various biological parameters could we figure out how to intervene before heart attacks occur or could we diagnose people remotely for diseases or problems?   Could we discover new combinations of drugs or supplements that could be beneficial.   With devices such as cars are there ways to revolutionize how we deliver transportation or make transportation more efficient, less traffic, lower cost?  Can we discover new ways to deliver things to people?   The car IOT is a good example. One of the things you can do with a car API is to provide eventing.   You can detect events that occur based on any telemetry and let other people know things or put business processes in that automate activities.   If I was in the construction business I could use eventing to watch the delivery of components needed for the construction and plan the activity around that construction better.    If it is my car maybe things can be done automatically at my destination as I approach it.


Tesla_Motors_Model_S_base Another example of network effect is with bigdata.    Bigdata enables us to look smarter by accumulating lots of detailed information on activity and looking at that detail to figure out patterns that are of interest.   For a car that could be used on the car itself to improve the performance of the car. A company is already doing that with Tesla. Smart Trip Planner It collects data about your cars performance and stores that data for analysis.  Already they use this information to help you more accurately estimate the energy consumed by going on different routes. Boeing uses information like this from planes to fine tune plane performance, reliability and efficiency. Eventually when the Android app capability is turned on later this year there will be possibility to do lots more things with the car and analytics we can produce from the car.


Privacy concerns with the Tesla include the fact you can know where it is and what you are doing and going to as well as how you get there.  People could potentially learn your driving habits or even potentially figuring out you went through a stop sign.     The car links to your cell phone and therefore has access to contacts and other information.   A virus infected car could deliver this information to unscrupulous people potentially.


Privacy broaches security if for instance using the API someone could find and open the car.   If valuable things are in the car this could compromise security as well.   I believe like others that Tesla should implement a 2-factor authentication scheme sooner rather than later for the car.

Here is a video on various ways to help secure IOT and Tesla 


The biggest concern for the IOT of the tesla is not privacy but as a safety risk.    Right now Tesla is the safest car in the world ever built according to the NTSA.  However, there are numerous vectors for a Tesla to become an unconventional safety risk.   I doubt there is a way to make the batteries explode but certainly it may be possible to damage the car as well as passengers inside.   One demo of an app showed a passenger able to force the steering wheel to move without the driver having control.   The ability to simply turn the car off in driving mode could be dangerous as well as doing anything to brakes.   There is even the possibility if an app causes the tesla to have to reboot or flashes the screen or driver console in such a way that the car becomes inoperable for a small time while driving.  It’s scary to think of all the ways something could go wrong. The ability to interact with the cars API while the car is in operation could be a serious problem but the fact that nearly all functions of the car are digitized and controllable potentially could mean the exposure could be through apps that are installed on the car or over the air through the API inserting a virus or just using the API in ways that cause problems.   I think Tesla needs to beef up their story around security as do all the IOT vendors in general. Would I suggest someone not buy a Tesla because of these concerns?  No!   Of course not.  These are the kinds of things that are general problems that all car companies and all IOT vendors will have to deal with.  Tesla is just on the leading edge. The Tesla is a fabulous vehicle and I believe that they will address these issues in a timely manner to make this a viable IOT and light the way for others.

Supporting Articles:

My IoT buying guide


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  4. kyaloeriq

    The Tesla car sounds really amazing but Tesla should also consider coming into emerging African countries including Kenya and South Africa.

  5. Pingback: How IoT (The Internet of Things) Will Change the Way Customers Interact With Your Business - Tweak Your Biz

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