On June 12, 2014 Tesla Motors Inc CEO and Chairmon Elon Musk issued a dramatic announcement on the company’s blog titled ALL OUR PATENTS ARE BELONG TO YOU. It has caused quite a stir. There were 476 comments on it 12 days later.
I was struck by this manifesto as on June 11, 2014 I had blogged about the ongoing damage done by the ever increasing level of protected IP (intellectual property) making its way into the cars we purchase and drive, but really don’t own.
I was incensed at the time at the CONTINUED protection of trade secrets among ex employees of the defunct bankrupt CODA Automotive. These were frustrating our efforts to use the UQM Powerphase 100 motor and controller out of the cars. We’ve since reverse engineered the CAN data driving this hardware and I’m pleased to report it is working well – no thanks to the many individuals that could have easily made this a non-event.
But it brings up the question, how does this leave the 81 owners who DID buy the CODA now that the company is bankrupt and gone and ZERO maintenance support is available. Their efforts to use and maintain the cars they bought is essentially KILLED by this preoccupation with IP – as if it is more important to retain the secret than it is to drive the car, which is what cars are FOR. And worse, the VALUE of those cars, which drive very nicely by the way, is reduced to approximately ZERO because of this lack of maintenance and information.
I went on to posit what IF somebody countered the trend and marketed a car that was actually OPEN SOURCE – the source code for all the software in the car available for download. This is admittedly a radical thought. But as third party applications became available and others learned to maintain the car would not then the value of the car go UP simply because it was open source?
And I then drew the parallel to the Apple II Computer. In truth Steve Jobs was not precisely a marketing genius starting out. ANd indeed Wozniak was the one who stamped his little foot and just INSISTED, in the only recorded incidence of this in their relationship, that the Apple II be open.
During the winter of 1978/1979 Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston worked on a software program for the Apple II that is credited with being the first spreadsheet program for a personal computer. In two months, they wrote a program titled VISICALC that ran on the Apple II and unveiled it at the National Computer Conference on June 4, 1979. Over the next six years, it sold 700,000 copies on the Apple II platform. The question is, were people who had bought the $2000 Apple II buying the $100 Visicalc, or versa vice? Actually it was almost entirely versa vice. They were buying the $2000 computer specifically to run the $100 Visicalc, and indeed there are reports of people who didn’t precisely know that the device WAS a personal computer. They thought it was an office machine called a VISICALC. A modern desktop calculator with no arm to pull. My recollection is it sold a heck of a lot of Apple II computers – many more than Steve Jobs ever did.
I would point to the original Macintosh and Lisa. Steve’s “closed” computers later developed unhampered by Wozniak’s open philosophy. Both were unmitigated sales disasters for Apple Computer eventually leading to the ouster of Jobs from the company.
Additionally, and as importantly, the backplane of the Apple could accommodate hardware “cards” and there were hundreds of third party products available to do almost anything on the Apple II. An ecosystem of Apple third party developers sprang into life that still represent the bulk of the value of the Apple computer/phone system today. The Apple Developers Conference remains Apple’s largest event of the year.
Meanwhile, Texas Instruments and Atari (where Jobs worked briefly) had closed “cartridge” systems that few even remember, though both used more advanced processors than the Apple II. TI took a hundred million write off and swore “never again” and Atari went bankrupt.
I then went on to apply how this concept would work on a car, and prophetically used my own Tesla Model S as an example. If anything goes wrong with it, I’m at the mercy of Tesla’s good will and continued existence. If they either choose to charge me $40,000 to fix the charge flap, or simply go bankrupt, I’m out $107,000 smooth. Even if I pay the $40,000, who is going to buy my car when the repair costs are that high?
Contrast this with an entirely OPEN Tesla MOdel S, with hundreds of autoshops easily able to repair it, and hundreds of third party developers tempting me with all the things they offer to ENHANCE the use of my Tesla Model S. Wouldn’t my car be MORE valuable then. And so in evaluating whether to purchase a Tesla Model S in the first place, would it not follow that I would perceive a HIGHER perceived value if it was open source, than if it was closed? I am totally certain they would sell many more Teslas as open source cars than they do now. I guess their ability to produce them to fill demand would still be an issue. But the value proposition would be seriously enhanced.
Musk’s manifesto appeared the next morning. And I was of course king for a day.
Unfortunately, I hear what I want to hear and Musk has a habit of even saying what I want to hear. And a further habit of later doing what he wants to do, which is never quite what I thought I heard. We are still waiting two years later for the Software Developers Kit that he unequivocally promised. Never mind the battery swap.
What he really said was “in the spirit of” the open source movement and “following the open source philosophy” as it applies to Tesla’s patents. And they even continue to patent defensively. But they won’t litigate patents for anyone appropriating them in good faith. I’m not sure what good faith actually means. But the public pronouncement kind of makes litigating it now problematical.
What he did NOT say was that they were actually open sourcing the car. I’m pretty sure he DOES know what open source is, but was counting on the press not to.
And I have no reason to believe they intend to announce or release any details of their CAN messaging protocol on their four CAN busses that operate the vehicle, or release a single line of source code.
And in truth and practice, they are the most secretive automobile manufacturer in the world ever. Indeed, they do not even release their monthly SALES numbers, long industry practice around the world. They are the ONLY automotive manufacturer I am aware of who declines to do so. As a publicly traded company, I personally consider this an SEC investigation level remiss.
The poor Tesloids on the Tesla Owners forum debate endlessly and generally cluelessly how many cells and what chemistry is in their car, two years after we “outed it” here on EVTV. They know almost nothing about their cars and Tesla employees, who watch this forum like raptors, never give out any particularly useful information.
In fairness, actually open sourcing the Tesla Model S is not entirely practical for them. A car is an assemblage of many products from many vendors. And to protect their IP, they cross NDA each other to death.
(Legaleeze sleeze – Non=Disclosure Agreement. ie you agree not to tell my secrets and I agree not to tell yours and we can both sue each other to death if either party does which we can always do anyway so I don’t know why we are doing this but the legal department told me not to talk to you till you sign it and I’ll lose my job if I don’t because our company is basically run by lawyers who should not be allowed to run anything including a toy railroad in a basement.)
Truth to tell, Elon Musk would have a difficult time inventorying just who he has NDA’s with and what they cover.
But it begs the question, “What if they did?” And that begs the further question “What if we did?”
Yesterday, I announced an Indiegogo Campaign to OPEN SOURCE THE TESLA MODEL S.
Actually we DID get the UQM Powerphase 100 to turn very nicely thank you and two of us got the shaft turning this past weekend. And of course we reverse engineered the DMOC645 and Siemens motor from the Azure Dynamics bankruptcy. Rather than waiting for the Tesla bankruptcy, we have decided to reverse engineer the Tesla Model S and publish full documentation of our findings.
We are currently forming a team we are variously calling the OPEN SOURCE MODEL S HACK TEAM, the S-HACK TEAM, or just the SHIT ATTACK team for short. We are going to acquire a Tesla wreck for in depth examination. I already HAVE an operating Tesla Model S P-85 that is my wife’s daily driver. And we are going to capture CAN logs from the four busses, decode them, and produce sample code that would on an Arduino Due with CAN bus, allow you to manipulate your car.
We will publish the results in the OPEN SOURCE HACKER’S GUIDE TO THE TESLA MODEL S both in an actual printed tome and electronically. All logs and source code will be free to download.
ETHICS AND LEGALITIES
The current state of protected IP in the modern automobile is in a deplorable state accruing against the interests of the public who purchases the cars. In fact it is damaging to their economic interests. The courts, in weighing this, have split the baby in half.
In the first place, the manufacturer enjoys NO right to secrecy. You bought the car and are perfectly entitled to familiarize yourself with anything and everything about it.
But at the same time, the manufacturer is under NO obligation to reveal trade secrets. And you have no RIGHT to force them to do so. Kind of a Mexican standoff. I own a Tesla Model S and have every right in the world to examine it and log CAN data, analyze it, and indeed to modify the car.
There are laws varying from state to state on industrial espionage. I can’t sneak into Tesla’s headquarters and steal documents and that would probably apply to paying Tesla employees to spy or somehow getting someone hired in to retrieve their data. But as long as I don’t do any of that, actually reverse engineering their software and hardware is pretty much all good medicine. They may seek to limit this with four point type in their purchase agreement, which generally wouldn’t be worth the paper it’s printed on, even electronically.
There have been reports of Tesla warning owners not to mess around with their cars. I could certainly lose warranty on the car if I modify it, but they cannot legally withold any warranty based on my examination or reverse engineering of it.
Ethically, it all goes my way. I bought the car. I paid for the car. It is not a leased car. It’s my car. Tesla no longer owns ANY part of it nor do I owe Tesla a report on the time of day. They DO retain some obligations to me, but I owe them nothing.
Under the circumstances and with Mr. Musk’s public pronouncement of not litigating patents, they are in a curious legal situation to then later do so in any manner. The claim can be made that they have publicly licensed it to the public domain.
WHY DO IT AT ALL?
Interesting question. We have answers. Make your time.
1. THIRD PARTY KILLER APP PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT.
The value of my car is not just what I do with it, but what I MIGHT do with it if it could be equipped with greater utility. Let’s do an example. We have Arduino CAN shields. We have Arduinos GSM shields. And if we had the appropiate message ids and data format, it would be fairly trivial to build a $200 device that would work quite like a remote starter. We don’t actually need a remote starter because an electric car doesn’t need to be “started” after the fashion of an ICE vehicle. I don’t care about starting it. I want to send it an SMS message: CAR:Set 72 degrees.
If it’s 104 out, that would be kind of cool. I could count on the air conditioner coming on and cooling the car down before I actually leave the office and walk to the car. Particularly a black car. My Tesla is black. With black interior.
If it’s 21 F out, not much is different. But instead of the air conditioner, the heater.
My Tesla doesn’t have this feature now. Which is odd. It has GSM in it. And it has a heater. And it has an air conditioner. Elon Musk can send my car an SMS message. Why can’t I???
Because he never released the SOftware Developers Kit he promised.
This is but one example of thousands. That I can do 0-60 in 4.2 seconds is interesting. But just how many telephone poles per fuhrlong hour IS that?
Steve Jobs never envisioned VisiCalc. Neither Elon Musk nor I ever envisioned the Tesla Zero Wings application. Actually neither one of us know what it is exactly because it hasn’t been invented yet. And it won’t be until we form the OPEN SOURCE TESLA MODEL S HACK TEAM and publish the results.
Would you believe that I spend most of my waking moments building, planning to build, or fixing what I’ve already misbuilt with regards to electric cars and have for the past five years. And I have lifts and multimeters and oscilloscopes, power supplies and regulated loads and all manner of things in my shop. But I would be helpless if I happen to face a blank screen in a Tesla Model S. Don’t ask me how I know. And we had to call the 800 number. And they explained how to reboot the system. Just like a computer. So maybe now I can do that. But that’s about it.
If anything substantive goes wrong with the Tesla, they pretty much have to fix it. If they don’t want to, I”m out with a dead car $107,000 later. Let’s say they DO want to but insist it isn’t covered by warranty and that it will cost me $40,000 to fix that. You say they wouldn’t DO that??? THEY ALREADY DID. Guy left his Roadster parked for three months. The battery drained dead and was not recoverable. That’s what they told him. $40,000 if you ever want to see your car alive again – and don’t call the cops or else.
The story got out and THEN there was some resolution but I don’t recall what the final deal was.
If it became widely known that that was Teslas approach, what would be the resale value of my $107,000 car? Who would want it?
In the case of both Azure Dynamics and CoDA, I hear from these guys all the time. Car worked great. They loved it. It broke. Probably something simple. But they have no place to take it. And no place to turn. So can’t I do something. Mostly not…
Ford Dealers you say? I get calls from them all the time too. We even sell replacement parts to a few of them when it really IS something obvious like an eGear drive. What a strange strange world.
Will Tesla go bankrupt? As a stockholder I hope and bet not. Unfortunately so did the investors at AZD and CODA. And as described, so did the poor hapless yucks that forked over $58,600 for a $23,000 vehicle because it was electric. And now it is broken and no one can fix it. They’re big EV fans.
And after it is no longer under warranty, and I want to fix it myself? Good luck. I’m able. But I don’t have the info. They consider it THEIRS and they consider it that AFTER I’ve bought and paid for it.
3.TREES AND TELEPHONE POLES AND TEXT MESSAGES.
As part of the do-it-yourself conversion crowd that likes to take nostalgia cars and bring them to a second life with electric drive, the OEM manufacturers have been an enormous boon. We used to use forklift motors and chopper controllers. Today we have SOME access to a cornucopia of modern AC space vector transform 3 phase inverters with AC induction or modern permanent magnet motors. We acquired nearly 160 Siemens motors from the Azure Dynamics bankruptcy and dealing with a sore assed Siemens motors who were hung with a dead inventory of 100 useless motors made specifically for AZD. We inherited 72 full Renault Fluenze battery packs from the Better Place fiasco (I mean bankruptcy) and we are currently farming the Coda debris field for UQM Powerphase 100 drive trains. UQM is also sore assed from being stiffed on $7.9 million worth of aging and unusable CODA inventory that they still carry from one SEC filing to the next like a horse’s head in a Godfather movie. I’m just waiting for the call.
The future promises more of the same. And bankruptcies are not necessary. Over 100 Nissan Leaf’s died in New Jersey during a bad storm. And as long as there are trees and telephone poles and text messages to type in one handed while trying to drive your car, we will have the dead rotting carcasses of what used to be brand new vehicles strewn across the land from sea to shining sea.
The electric motors are almost indestructible. And the inverters are pretty hardy as well. AC compressors, chargers, DC-DC converters batteries, it’s a gold mine of parts in the salvage yard for resourceful EVnauts.
But you do have to figure out how to use them. And in too many cases the simple software codes used to control them are a deep dark company private secret Intellectual Property issue. And so those parts might as well be boat anchors and lawn ornaments if you can’t devine the magic numbers to send them. Today they are all CAN controlled.
This is a tragic senseless waste of materiel’ – in soon to be epic proportions. American planned obsolescence and consumerism actually gone to its ugly hideous final form of extravagant waste. What happened to the old “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” thing? Not today fashionable? Cooing soothingly and seductively about the recyclable nature of lithium batteries for the cameras is essentially the mark of a social retard if 200 lb motors, transaxles and inverters are going to metal scrap and landfill. Perfectly operational ones at that. From two year old cars. This is NOT a theory. You can bid on these wrecks online RIGHT NOW. We bought a Nissan motor on eBay for $1000. It will last essentially forever. No maintenance. No brushes. They’re cool.
4. INDUSTRY WAKE UP CALL.
I happen to know that a complete hack of the TEsla Model S will not only not harm Tesla, it will actually INCREASE both the value and the desirability of the car to the precise degree we succeed.
Automotive technology was not always an Intellectual Property trade secret. In the 1950’s car companies crowed about their new innovations with elaborate animations SHOWING how they worked. They WANTED the information out there so they would be repairable anywhere. They did training films for technicians. And anyone could buy shop manuals from any number of publishers that showed every nut and bolt, how to rebuild transmissions, engines and so forth.
So what happened? Electronics gradually migrated into the car, and with it came the opportunity to innovate with things the other companies didn’t have. And maybe if they protected the IP, the competition either wouldn’t get it or would have to spend just as much on R&D to have it. In the meanwhile, they would sell more cars because theirs had bluetooth, or nav, or autopark, or something.
It is easy to see it didn’t work out. One gets an edge, and it evaporates in a season. They all have bluetooth. They all have nav. NONE of them actually have a freakin cupholder that works. We just haven’t quite achieved THAT level of technology yet. But they all have everything else.
How about this for a competitive edge? An OPEN car that anyone can do anything with. Immediately the darling of modders and tuners and custom shops across the land because they can WORK on it. They can make changes. Customize it. Alter it. Paint it in plastidip. That IS what the venerable VW bug chassis enjoys today. Third party parts universally available. Endless mods and dress ups. The car hasn’t been built in years but the ecosphere lives on. And people keep building and rebuilding them. You can find someone to work on your VW beetle in any little town in the country. And they haven’t made them in decades.
Would this work in 2014? Duh. For exactly the same reason it did for the Apple computer and the VW Beetle.
WHY THE MODEL S?
It represents the finest electric car built in the world circa June 2014. Period. Many more Leafs. PLentiful parts elsewhere. But Tesla is the beast. So many cars. So little time. I pick Tesla. We already know how my Cadillac Escalade Electric works.
CAN WE DO IT?
I think so. I would say 100% success is assured to NOT happen. But you can do a lot with 90%. And you can do a lot more than you are doing now with 50%.
We already have successfully reverse engineered a good bit of the Azure Dynamics drive train and now the UQM Powerphase 100 as customized by CODA. This done by a few of us kind of casually. Doing the entire TEsla Model S is an ambitious project. WE will break it into pieces and work them a piece at a time and often with several groups each working on a piece at a time.
Can we do it in three weeks? Uh. No. Is there a rush? We’ll develop the process and setup the collection. And start logging and analyzing and sorting and categorizing and working out what hardware uses what addresses and map the vehicle by function. It’s a process and best done with all due deliberation and in organized fashion. I see a very useful publication in a year.
I would ask your support in time and treasure and talent. We are committed to do it. But more is better on all three counts.
Many of us are unable to justify the expense of a Tesla Model S. But I see a day where much of the technology, and MANY of the salvage parts, can be made available for many many people to use in the electric car conversion/build of their choice that they CAN justify.
Why anyone would begrudge us their castoff trash is beyond me. But we intend to dig it out of the pile, brush it off and put it to use in ever more capable electric vehicles of all kinds anyway. The OPEN SOURCE HACKER’S GUIDE TO THE TESLA MODEL S will enable that to a greater degree than anything else I can think of, and bring to reality a very appropriate and laudable vision expressed by Elon Musk himself.