It will take a while to digest the probable impact of Tesla’s bold move to open up all of its patents. A first step toward understanding the likely effects on the industry would be figuring out just what kind of technology the patents cover, and the insurance analysis firm uAutoInsurance is working on doing just that. It has analyzed about 249 of Tesla’s patents, and has succeeded in categorizing 184 of them.
Lobby of Tesla’s Palo Alto headquarters
Photo courtesy of Steve Jurvetson/Flickr
Photo courtesy of Tesla Motors
Unsurprisingly, the vast majority, 104 patents, have to do with batteries. Tesla’s vehicles have always boasted far better range than other EVs, and Elon Musk recently reaffirmed that, although the company is constantly investigating new technologies, it has yet to see anything that can beat the battery chemistry it’s using. In theory, other EV makers could probably benefit greatly from sharing the Tesla battery mojo, but in practice, the OEMs are deeply committed to their own battery systems (Nissan recently built a factory to manufacture its proprietary battery cells and packs).
There are also about 28 patents related to charging technology. This seems like a promising area for collaboration. There are reports that Nissan and BMW are already talking with the Silicon Valley trend-setter about making their EVs compatible with the Supercharger network, something that could strike a blow against the dreaded disease known as range anxiety.
The uAutoInsurance team also identified about 25 patents for technology that reduces the risk of battery fires, most of them having to do with thermal runaway detection and management. One patent is for a method of mitigating the effects of a thermal event within a battery pack by directing hot gas through one or more metal-air cells. Another is for a controller that can detect internal short circuits.
According to uAutoInsurance, this is an exciting area, as this sort of technology could be used by other manufacturers to make safer cars, reducing overall insurance costs of EVs for the entire industry.