While on one hand Tesla can appear to be a fairly open company, especially considering they open-sourced their patents and Elon Musk is quite a talkative CEO; on the other hand, Tesla is also keeping a lot of cards close to its chest and secrecy is an important part of several of the automaker’s programs.
The automaker’s latest top-secret program is called ‘Tesla Glass’…
What is ‘Tesla Glass’?
To be honest, we don’t know exactly, but we bet it will be pretty cool.
We received an anonymous tip about the program that really didn’t say much, but after looking into it, we were able to confirm that a ‘Tesla Glass’ program does exist at the automaker. It was created earlier this year when Tesla started assigning staff on the project.
It is based out of the company’s Design Studio in Hawthorne, California, where the company conducts all its design work and some high-level engineering, and it is led by Tesla director Mike Pilliod and program manager Kate Kuzina.
That’s about the extent of what we can confirm about the program because again, Tesla is being secretive about it and no one is talking. From this point on, everything should be considered purely speculative and based on what we have been discussing at Electrek, but we do have some pretty good leads.
First of all, Tesla loves glass. It might be using more glass in its vehicles than any other automaker.
It started with the Model S’ panoramic roof:
Then Tesla introduced the panoramic windshield in the Model X. It’s the largest windshield in production:
And finally, Tesla will also offer an all-glass roof option for the Model 3:
…but all these features were created before the ‘Tesla Glass’ program, so what is this new program about?
Looking at the background of the program director, Mike Pilliod, might be helpful. Prior to joining Tesla, Pilliod was one of Apple’s top materials engineers. He is named on a long list of patents at the Cupertino company, most of them having to do with innovations in glass touchscreens and electronic devices using glass, like the iPhone.
According to the patents, he even worked directly with Jonathan Ive, Apple’s Chief Design Officer.
Based on his experience, it might have something to do with Tesla’s screens. Tesla is certainly not short on glass touchscreen real estate in its vehicles:
The name of the program itself is interesting for its resemblance with ‘Google Glass’, Google’s half dead optical head-mounted display program.
We reported earlier this year that Tesla had been using Google Glass hardware at its Fremont factory. Now that was for Tesla workers, not something the automaker intended its customers to use in its vehicles, but could a similar head-mounted device be useful to Tesla drivers?
The consensus at Electrek is that ‘Tesla Glass’ has something to do with a Heads Up Display (HUD). Tesla did hire some HUD experts in the past few years to work on its Autopilot program, like Milan Kovac, who is now Engineering Manager of Autopilot Embedded Systems at Tesla, and Yonggang Ha, a Staff Optical Engineer on the Autopilot team.
Whether the HUD is integrated with the windshield, something already available in some luxury vehicles today and even in easily installed aftermarket products, or if it is head-mounted, which ends up having the same properties of a HUD, or something else entirely, is up for debate.
Interestingly, both previously mentioned engineers hired by Tesla have a lot of experience with see-through head-mounted displays. Ha holds several patents related to the technology and Kovac was the principal engineer of the SKULLY augmented reality motorcycle helmet, which features a head-mounted display:
I would think something in the windshield is still more likely, but I wouldn’t necessarily discard the idea of a head-mounted device. Either way, something beyond just incorporating speed and trajectory, but also data from the Autopilot sensors would be interesting.
What do you think? What is ‘Tesla Glass’? What about solar glass or a new smart glass? Let us know in the comment section below or reach out via email.
Footnote: There’s already a product unrelated to Tesla Motors called ‘Tesla Glass‘. It’s an adhesive film that can turn transparent glass opaque with an electric current. Coincidently, SpaceX has the system in its Hawthorne offices and here’s Elon Musk making a demonstration: