Saturday, May 14, 2016

Tesla co-founder reveals how Tesla was conceived

Earlier this week, JB Straubel, Tesla's founding team and the company's Chief Technical Officer (CTO), met with Ontario's innovation community for the first time when he appeared as keynote speaker at Ontario Centres of Excellence's Discovery 2016 at the Metro Convention Centre.

During his speech, Straubel went into detail about how Tesla was conceived and his passion for electric vehicles and electricity:

"When I was a kid I always loved machines, taking things apart and try to put them back together. It wasn’t till I got into college when I started to understand engineering as a profession.... electric vehicles and electricity always had something to offer me, I can’t explain what it was exactly, the nature of doing things quietly and having energy mysteriously transported and moved and created, it was really fascinating, something I dedicated my time to since the beginning."
"The old Tesla dream evolved from me actually, from something called Solar Car Racing, it’s a sport where universities compete in... And got me thinking about how we could make a much better all electric car: they didn’t need to have solar on the roof, but could take advantage of battery improvements, could offer same efficiency and benefits that solar cars have."
Born in Wisconsin, Straubel constructed a large chemistry lab in the basement of his parent's house. At age 13, he restored a dumped old golf cart to working condition by rebuilding the electric motor. Later he went to major in physics at Stanford University but realized it wasn't for him, instead he developed his own major called Energy Systems and Engineering where he wanted to combine computing with power electronics to control energy. Straubel always loved to get his hands dirty. At one point, he bought a Porsche and converted it into an electric car. The car had a thirty mile range but it did set a world record for electric vehicle acceleration by traveling a quarter mile in 17.28 seconds. He then built a gasoline generator to tow behind the car and recharge its batteries.

Later on he helped build Stanford's Solar Car project with a team of students, that's when he realized that lithium-ion batteries - such as the ones used in the project - had gotten much better than most people realized.

“Participating in the Stanford Solar Car Project was a wonderful experience for me that really taught me how to make an engineering design function in the real world in a way that classes never could. For me this was one of the best ways to learn these hands-on lessons that I am still using today.”

Straubel decided to raise funds for the project, but failed. Until the fall of 2003 when he joined Harold Rosen - an engineer famed for inventing the geostationary satellite - at a seafood restaurant near SpaceX headquarters in Los Angeles to meet Elon Musk.

"Elon and I first met at Lunch in LA... And ironically I was trying to pitch him the idea to build an electric airplane. It was a passion of mine as well to actually start a separate company before Tesla. Elon wasn’t particularly interested in that concept... but we realized we both had incredible passion for electric cars. He understood that we've got the opportunity ahead of us - with advances with lithium ion batteries - better than anyone I ever talked to. Only few months later we connected with other early co-founders of Tesla and he did the series A funding for the company."

After the meeting Elon and Straubel reached out to AC propulsion to launch Tesla.

Straubel is a SSCP alumnus and consortium member at Stanford University. A lot of his buddies joined him at Tesla when it took off. In addition to his work at Tesla, Straubel is also on the Board of Directors for SolarCity. He is also a lecturer at his alma mater Stanford University, where he teaches the popular Energy Storage Integration class in the Atmosphere and Energy Program.

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