Innovation

Learn Tesla Model 3's key moves in autonomous driving, batteries, and charging

Tesla's $35,000 Model 3, unveiled on Thursday, will be self-driving ready, equipped with batteries for 215-mile range, and powered by a network of chargers rapidly covering the US and abroad.

Tesla's Model 3 Image: Tesla

Hours before CEO Elon Musk appeared to announce Tesla's Model 3 Thursday night, hundreds of eager fans were already lined up at Tesla dealerships across the United States to put $1,000 down as a reservation for the new $35,000 electric car--without having seen it. After the grand unveil, Musk revealed that Tesla had already received over 115,000 reservations for the Model 3--or $115 million in cash and over $4 billion.

READ Tim Stevens' first take on the Tesla Model 3 on Roadshow

The Model 3 is the latest model in Musk's "masterplan" towards an environmentally-sustainable future. "Why does Tesla exist?" asked Musk. "Why does it matter? It's very important to accelerate the transition to sustainable transport."

And, for those who care about the technologies shaping Tesla's advance in the car market, the company's Model 3 move also includes important developments in batteries, charging, and autonomous driving.

Here are the key takeaways from the Model 3 announcement:

  • Minimum of 215 miles per charge, due to a newly-developed battery (more on that in moment).
  • Autopilot hardware and safety features available in all cars. Tesla's Autopilot uses cameras, radar, ultrasonic sensors, and navigation data to "automatically steer down the highway, change lanes with the flick of a turn signal, and adjust speed in response to traffic." But while the car is equipped with the hardware, "convenience features" carry an extra charge.
  • Double the number of Superchargers, Tesla's standalone charging station for electric vehicles. In just 30 minutes, Tesla's Supercharger provides up to 120 kilowatts of power to replenish a half charge, allowing "convenience of travel; freedom," said Musk. There are currently 3600 worldwide now, but Musk said Tesla will double that, and quadruple the number of destination charges--which are located at hotels, restaurants, shopping centers, and resorts.
  • Tesla's Gigafactory will produce more lithium-ion batteries than all other factories in the world, combined.

SEE: The future of electric cars: Why the battery race will define it and Musk is a genius

Steve LeVine, author of The Powerhouse: Inside the Invention of a Battery to Save the World, is especially excited about the potential of Tesla's new battery, which he said is "a big technological breakthrough."

"Tesla and its battery-maker, Panasonic, have created a silicon-graphite anode, which is one of the two electrodes contained in every battery," LeVine said. "Silicon has been a Holy Grail because it's so energetic. But in a battery, it tends to swell up and cause the battery to self-destruct."

Now, LeVine said, the companies can make an anode with 10% silicon, "which is very surprising and exciting."

"This could be a tipping point for electric cars," said LeVine.

Bryant Walker Smith, professor at the University of South Carolina, and an expert on the legal aspects of self-driving vehicles, is excited about Tesla's impact on autonomous driving.

SEE: Photos: A list of the world's self-driving cars racing toward 2020

"If Tesla succeeds in making its cars mainstream," said Smith, "it will also make important features like over-the-air updates and advanced sensors mainstream as well--technologies, applications, and even business models upon which automated driving will build."

It's important to note, LeVine wrote in Quartz, that despite the buzz, Tesla is still an underdog in the car manufacturing world.

"Musk hopes to deliver another 93,000 vehicles this year, which isn't quite there if you're thinking like a big carmaker: It would equal a mere 4% of the approximately 1.9 million cars sold in 2015 by both BMW and Mercedes, elegant brands that Musk regards as his true competition," LeVine wrote. "It is not an industry, and Musk knows it."

Also, GM's Chevy Bolt, scheduled to release in late 2016, is another mid-priced electric car that is set to compete with Tesla. It doesn't have the style of the Model 3, but it has GM's infrastructure, sales, and distribution behind it.

But for many who have been patiently waiting for practical, affordable, and stylish electric cars, 2017 is officially the year it will be a reality--and self-driving features will be a valuable bonus in the equation.

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