Emerging Technology

BEST OF THE WEB: The secrets behind Tesla’s sudden and unexpected success

Patrick Stafford /

For a long time, Tesla was the laughing stock of the automotive scene. The company had nearly gone into bankruptcy and has been through several financial troubles.

But earlier this year, something changed. In May the company posted its first profit, and chief executive Elon Musk announced an increased sales estimate.

So what’s happened?

As this Business Week piece investigates, the company has managed to simply sell a good product. The company’s Model S car is able to reach 60 miles (96.5km/h) per hour in 4.2 seconds and has excellent energy usage. It’s even controlled by a massive 17-inch touchscreen.

And just as Tesla is keen to advance car technology – some of the user-based advancements are worth a look.

In an online forum, an owner in Illinois asks for a software update to the remote climate-control system so he can override a timed shutoff and keep his dog cool while going to lunch.

Someone else has written an app that pairs Google Glass with a Model S, letting an owner who’s forgotten where he parked see the vehicle on a map while its headlights flash.

The use of software to control car systems is spreading beyond Tesla, though. General Motors and Ford are using it more as well.

So why the sudden turnaround in electric cars? Plenty are failing – as the Business Week piece points out, the Israel-based Better Place was sold earlier this year.

It turns out Tesla has a secret.

The company has insisted on doing just about everything it can in-house, which has helped it develop intellectual property and control costs. Tesla built the battery pack replacement feature into the Model S, for example, and then designed the robots that will do the work.

Silicon Valley is filled with companies working on electric car-based technology – even apps that help people find electric charging stations.

It might have taken a decade, but Tesla may finally have reached its prime.

Why 3D printing is about to explode

You may have noticed the rise in 3D printing over the past couple of years – as these machines become more affordable, more organisations are able to “print” objects and figures.

The practice even attracted controversy last year for allowing users to “print” guns.

And as this piece in The Atlantic points out, it’s about to get even bigger. Several patents are about to expire, which means there could be a huge rush in 3D printing machines – followed by a drop in prices.

This isn’t just idle speculation; when the key patents expired on a more primitive form of 3D printing, known as fused deposition modeling, the result was an explosion of open-source FDM printers that eventually led to iconic home and hobbyist 3D printer manufacturer Makerbot.

And Makerbot was recently acquired by 3D-printing giant Stratasys for about $400 million in stock, plus a potential $200 million stock bonus. That acquisition was a homecoming of sorts for Makerbot; Stratasys was founded by Charles Hull, who invented 3D printing via FDM, the very technology on which Makerbot was based.

If you haven’t been watching the 3D printing scene, now may be the perfect time to start.

Giving yourself an app clean out

You probably own a smartphone, which means you probably own apps – but how many of them do you actually use?

As this Mashable piece points out, there is a process to deciding which apps should stay and which should go. All you need to do is follow a few handy tips.

As it turns out, this is a pretty common problem – and the piece ponders whether there could be a better way of handling this type of dilemma.

Just imagine if apps that you haven’t used for, say, a month grew somewhat dimmer on screen.

The app icons would still be there, but just a little less bright. With each passing week, they’d grow a little bit dimmer. By six months, they’d be almost translucent, which would actually make them stand out amongst your brighter, sharper apps.

If you haven’t given your phone a clean-up, perhaps now is the time. This piece is a good place to start.

 

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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