3 Interesting Tesla Innovations (from 2019)

Reviewing the most interesting Tesla inventions — and what they might mean for Tesla in 2020 and beyond.

JP Hwang
JP Hwang
Nov 7, 2019 · 7 min read

Tesla is known as one of the most innovative companies going around today. It has almost become synonymous with electrical vehicles and single-handedly accelerated their rate of adoption, made headlines by “giving away” their patents, and have been engaged in seemingly disparate areas such as tunnel boring, renewable energies and space travel.

In other words, Tesla’s activities have been exciting and diverse.

So, in this article, we dove into Tesla’s recent patent publications to identify Tesla’s top 3 most interesting innovations as published in 2019, and discuss where Tesla might be headed next in its future.

The rationale for looking at patents is that Tesla’s R&D activities are based on their future plans, and new patent publications are often reflective of an organisation’s R&D activities. So, by looking at patent publications, valuable insights into a company’s vision (Tesla’s, in this case) can be gained.

Innovation 1: Solar roof tiles

Placing solar elements from the roof is not new. This probably seems obvious. In fact, it is the most common way that solar energy is harvested for households, and one of the oldest ways that this has been done.

However, the dominant way that solar elements have been installed on the roof has been via flat, large, solar panels. There are myriad shortcomings with this arrangement, as Tesla points out, such as parts of the roof not being covered, lacking weather protection, and its “lack of aesthetic appeal” (which I think is a generous way of putting it).

Tesla has been working on various roof tile innovations. In fact, they’ve had solar tiles on the market for a while.

Elon Musk — showing off Tesla roof tiles

These solar tiles are different to solar panels, in that they can be joined to each other to cover an entire roof, provide better weatherproofing, and can be modular (therefore can be replaced in parts rather than as a whole).

The most recent Tesla solar tile innovations include those that can be shaped like traditional roof tiles.

Images from “Non-flat solar roof tiles” patent application (US20190245478)

This patent application touts technological advances of these Tesla panels, which adapted for receiving sunlight from varying angles throughout the day, to overcome problems such as self-shading or changes to power outputs.

Looking at the patent landscape of similar patents, the key organisations with portfolios in related areas are shown below.

Patent landscape — key organisations for patents related to US20190245478.

The two graphs here show leading organisations, where the first graph only shows organisations for “high relevance” documents, and the second adds “moderate relevance” documents, as defined by our search engine. Loosely, they change how tightly we define “relevance”. Some example documents are shown below for each relevance level.

Examples of search results (by relevance)

One clear conclusion is that by either metric, Tesla is well set up as either the leader or one of the leaders in this field. Additionally, it is notable that Tesla’s entire portfolio in this area has been built since 2017, highlighting their recent focus.

In another patent application, Tesla discusses a novel substrate (from glass, metal and manufacturing technique that is said to allow:

the manufacture of glass with desired aesthetic properties (e.g., glass having the appearance of tree bark, roofing material, etc.) while preserving desired optical properties (e.g., low gloss, high transmissivity, etc.).

Interestingly, this glass manufacturing technique patent application is one of the most unique patent applications that we’ve seen in our patent database.

Very few relevant documents to US20190241455 were found in our landscape.

The extreme uniqueness of this patent application highlights Tesla’s innovativeness, at least in this area.

All in all, almost 20 new patent applications has published in the U.S. Tesla that relate to solar roof tiles. They include different ways of integrating solar tiles into roof structures, support structures for tiles, or even connector arrangements. This application aims to prevent the light from reflecting off surfaces, to minimise disturbances.

Tesla is continuing to bet big on powering our homes, as well as providing the infrastructure to store that power (through their battery technologies).

Innovation 2: Smart vehicle sunroof

Continuing with the ‘solar’ theme, this interesting patent application aims to improve lighting as it comes through a sunroof.

Here, Tesla discusses the problem with current technology, that a sunroof makes it very difficult to control the interior lighting conditions within a vehicle. In turn, Tesla proposes a sunroof with a tint layer that is electrically controllable to only allow a desirable amount of light through. Not only that, it also might include a set of light sources (e.g. LED light sources) so that the cabin may be lit up at night from the sunroof.

Model S — soon potentially with a ‘smart’ sunroof?

If this sunroof technology was to be implemented, the occupants could be seated in a car with a sunroof, but enjoy optimal lighting conditions from their seat regardless of outside conditions, whether it was sunny, overcast, raining, or even in darkness.

Unlike the above field, though, this appears to be an area that is well-occupied by Ford, one of their major competitors. Our patent landscape shows Ford as being quite dominant in this area.

Patent landscape around Tesla’s US20190106055 application.

One of the top results in our similar patent search is also a Ford patent application. It is entitled “Vehicle window assembly with map and dome light feature”, and describes lighting from elements within a window, including a sunroof. For example, the figure below show that “zones 14 a, 14 b are typically located above occupant seating areas and are configured to provide illumination to vehicle occupants”.

Image from Ford’s US20190263319A1

Clearly, Tesla’s place in this technology area is very different to that in solar roof tiles. While this particular sunroof technology is interesting, Tesla barely has a foothold here, in a technology landscape dominated by Ford.

It may take quite a bit of work for Tesla to catch up to Ford’s R&D and patent portfolio in this general area. It’s also not clear whether Tesla sees this area as a key area for them, given a dearth of related patent filings from them.

Innovation 3: Battery deformation detection

This patent application was covered by a few media outlets, such as here. It describes a system for “contactless detection of deformations/swelling of the battery cell across the entire surface of the battery cell”.

The application is pretty obvious. It would be great to be able to detect condition of a rechargeable battery accurately, to assess any damage, or operating status. The below image is included in the patent application.

Image from Tesla’s US20190267677

Unfortunately, this doesn’t look like the kind of device that could be included within an electric vehicle, or even for a home battery array. Still, it could be useful for Tesla in better characterising a condition of a battery, both for design/experimentation purposes and also for deployed batteries, such as at power plants.

Looking holistically, this appears to be another area with little immediate competition for Tesla. A search for similar patents returned the below patent documents, rated at best as being of “moderate” relevance. While they related to battery monitoring, they appeared to use quite different techniques to those described in Tesla’s applications.

Search results — similar patent documents to US20190267677

Based on this search, it would appear that Tesla’s contactless battery deformation detection technology might be quite novel, and present an opportunity for Tesla to establish a lead in a niche technology area to support their business.

This application, and a number of other battery-technology related Tesla applications, indicate that Tesla is not slowing down in advancing battery technologies anytime soon.

As ever, Tesla remains one of the most fascinating organisations to follow, and it’ll be interesting to see which of these technologies are implemented, and how they affect company performance going forward.

So, these were the top 3 most “interesting” innovations from Tesla, discovered using our analytics software on hindsights.

If you would like to see similar articles about any other companies, let me know below in the comments or contact me directly on jhwang@hindsights.io.

Thanks for reading, and see you next time.

JP Hwang

Written by

JP Hwang

Freelance programmer (NLP / Python / ML / DataViz) & blogger, sports analytics enthusiast. Ex-engineer and patent attorney. 🇦🇺 Ex-Sydneysider. 🐦: @_jphwang

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