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Design and Technology

Elon Musk

If technology had a superhero, it would surely be Elon Musk. This is an unstoppable eco-entrepreneur whose innovations might just save the planet.

They say if you want to get things done you should write a list. It seems to have worked for Elon Musk. Just over a decade ago, he wrote a bullet-pointed ‘masterplan,’ which today, is entering its final stages of completion. After selling PayPal to eBay aged 32, he could easily have quit while he was ahead – no master plan necessary. Not Musk. In 2002, he launched SpaceX, despite having no formal qualifications in rocketry. Just a year later, Tesla came along, promising game-changing, all-electric cars. Musk became something of a household name – even if many doubted his outlandish ideas.

Fast-forward to today and any doubters might well be eating their words. His creations are having – and will have – a profound (and very much positive) impact on our planet, which has been his priority all along. “By definition, we must at some point achieve a sustainable energy economy or we will run out of fossil fuels to burn and civilisation will collapse. The faster we achieve sustainability, the better,” he says. Musk, being Musk, has already written his next list, which addresses his preoccupation with sustainability.

Tesla factory robots

“Firstly, [I want to] create a smoothly integrated and beautiful solar-roof-with-battery product that just works, and then scale that throughout the world,” says Musk of the first task on his to-do list. Next, he hopes a lower cost version of the current Tesla models will address a larger slice of the consumer market. “What really matters to accelerate a sustainable future is being able to scale up production volume as quickly as possible,” he explains. The Model 3, currently in production, starts at US$35,000, and customers will start receiving their new cars by October of this year.

That might be a heavy enough workload for many – but not Musk, who is adding autonomy to his list. “As the technology matures, all Tesla vehicles will have the hardware necessary to be fully self-driving with fail-operational capability, meaning that any given system in the car could break and your car will still drive itself safely,” Musk explains. This spells a future where long, onerous car journeys could simply be a good opportunity to eat, sleep or work.

The icing on the cake, as if any were necessary? Musk’s final goal, which is to enables cars to make money for customers when they aren’t using them, via a shared fleet. “This dramatically lowers the true cost of ownership to the point where almost anyone could own a Tesla,” says Musk. “Since most cars are only in use by their owner for 5% to 10% of the day, the fundamental economic utility of a true self-driving car is likely to be several times that of a car which is not.” He imagines a future where, by tapping a button on the Tesla app, owners can simply add their car to the fleet, whilst on holiday or at work. “In cities where demand exceeds the supply of customer-owned cars, Tesla will operate its own fleet, ensuring you can always hail a ride from us no matter where you are.”

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