The Role of AI in EV Battery Technology (Part II)

12/1/2023 / Gail Alfar

(Austin, Texas) Al is here to stay and so is the EV industry. AI plays a significant role in autonomous driving and battery capabilities. This article will explore how a complex web of factors (which includes AI), makes EV batteries, especially Tesla EV batteries, much safer than ever imagined. This is a follow-up to Part I, which focuses on AI in EV autonomous driving.

Much of this article focuses on Tesla. We know Tesla sets the gold standard for real-world AI with specialized algorithms, code foundations, evaluation infrastructure, and the Dojo system. But did you know that Tesla also sets the standard for battery technology which includes AI? 

To understand this better, I will start by sharing with you my personal experience with everyday battery management in my Model Y.

Battery Charging 

Every morning, I wake up to a full battery in my Model Y. The battery charges when my local utility rates are at their lowest during the night. Imagine gasoline prices gradually lowering at certain times of the night because of less demand. Well, electricity is cheaper at night, so when charging at night you pay less. But what about if you cannot charge at home or you live in an apartment with no charging? Tesla offers lower Supercharger rates at off-peak times.

For illustration purposes, here is a screen capture of my Model Y UI to show you some of the information you have at your fingertips.

Model Y User Interface

A close look shows that at the Austin, Texas Supercharger at Research, from 4:00 am to 1:00 pm, supercharging costs $0.28 per kWh. As a result of factors such as the cost of electricity in Texas at this location, these rates are adjusted. In addition, they reflect the demand for charging at this location. If you really want to save money, you could plan to charge here from 12:00 a.m. to 4:00 when rates are only $0.13 per kWh. However, if you must charge when demand is high, you will pay $0.40 per kWh from 1:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. 

With a little planning, supercharging does not have to be expensive. Supercharging pricing uses Tesla’s AI to quickly determine, in real-time, local prices, and local demand. Thus, supercharging times and prices will vary quite a bit from location to location. Supercharger details can be accessed on your Tesla screen. You can plan out a trip and look ahead to see how many empty spots are available for charging. In the above example, there are 18 stalls and 14 are available.

Tesla’s AI knows exactly when to charge with Trip Planner.

Battery Charging Safety and Trip Planner

Tesla uses advanced AI-driven software to keep your vehicle’s battery charged on trips in the safest way possible. When you need to Supercharge, and when you are at the optimal distance from a Supercharger, your Tesla’s battery preconditions automatically. 

Tesla recommends Trip Planner (available in most markets) for longer journeys. This feature uses AI to navigate to a charging location and at least 30-45 minutes before arrival, the battery will start preconditioning. This ensures optimal battery temperature and charging conditions. 

In South Texas, I used Trip Planner for several road trips to see the Starship. When I travel, Trip Planner routes me to the appropriate Superchargers. To minimize the amount of time I spend driving and charging, Trip Planner selects a route and provides charging times. To enable Trip Planner, click the map's settings icon and select “Trip Planner.”

When Trip Planner is enabled and charging is required to reach a destination, the turn-by-turn direction list includes Supercharger stops, recommended charging times at each Supercharger, and an estimate of how much energy will be available when you arrive at the Supercharger location.

By using Trip Planner to navigate to a Tesla charging location, the AI software ensures the high-voltage battery is pre-conditioned to ensure when you arrive at the charger, the battery temperature is optimal and ready to charge. This reduces the amount of time it takes to charge and maintains a healthy battery. 

Tesla is constantly improving and testing under extreme conditions. 

Tesla's High Voltage Battery Design Engineering Team uses real-world testing and AI

To make your vehicle's battery as high-performing as possible, talented engineers and artificial intelligence work together as part of a "cybernetic collective." Engineers work in a factory environment, not a pristine office. Among the cross-functional problems in design or manufacturing, batteries require structural, thermal, electrical, and sensing components and are made of hundreds of cells. Since batteries are made 24/7, the continued ramp, stabilization, optimization, and holistic sustaining of battery components & assemblies is a challenging job. Tesla is continually launching various improvement efforts to refine the product, and AI plays a big role in these efforts through QC, design optimization, and data analysis. 

  • Quality Control. AI is used for quality control during the manufacturing process. It inspects components and assemblies for defects or deviations from desired specifications and ensures batteries meet strict quality standards.

  • Design Optimization. AI assists in the design process by rapidly simulating and evaluating various design options. It analyzes structural, thermal, and electrical components to optimize battery performance and efficiency.

  • Data Analysis. AI processes and analyzes large volumes of data generated during testing and production. This identifies patterns, anomalies, and areas for improvement faster and more accurately than manual analysis.

Tesla's Battery Testing and AI Integration

Tesla's commitment to battery improvement is an ongoing endeavor, leveraging AI technology to increase the safety of its entire fleet of millions of cars. Within Tesla’s "Abuse Testing & Engineering Group," Tesla rigorously challenges battery systems, pushing them beyond their limits with specialized equipment, and subjecting them to electrical, mechanical, and thermal stresses. This rigorous testing, enhanced by AI technology, is aimed at rapidly acquiring valuable insights that can shape early design decisions. Tesla seeks to understand how robust their systems are when subjected to extreme conditions, a process commonly referred to as "testing to failure."

Tesla battery products, whether for their vehicles or energy storage solutions, undergo this demanding process. The pace is relentless, ensuring that every battery product that emerges from this environment is thoroughly vetted. In addition, AI technology plays a crucial role in data analysis and safety assessment.

A dedicated team of engineers and technicians conduct large-scale, thermally destructive tests in the lab, enhanced by AI, to guarantee that the batteries meet the highest safety standards for all customers. Tesla's approach isn't just about executing complex tests flawlessly; it's also about distilling the results, with AI, into a wealth of knowledge that improves future batteries.  

My thoughts

In my old gasoline car, I relied on my iPhone for maps and the tank indicator to see when I needed to re-fuel and prices were the same at night as in the daytime. My Model Y provides a feeling of living in the future through the seamless integration of many factors. The batteries are heavy, with a low center of gravity, making the vehicle feel like it drives “on rails.” The maps sense distance, need to charge, and take into account traffic in Austin, re-routing the car as appropriate. I do not pay a premium to charge at home or on off-peak hours at a Supercharger. Though I do not consciously think about how much painstaking effort in put into the battery and its many functions, there is a team at Tesla. Tesla's AI supports the team and has one goal: Making the most advanced batteries possible. 

If you want to take advantage of a program to provide a valuable warranty on your Tesla’s battery, check out Xcelerate. 

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Gail Alfar

Gail is an independent writer who created the publication “Whats Up Tesla” Her writing focuses on increasing knowledge among people on the details of humanity’s path towards a sustainable energy future for all. Her dedication and passion is powered by her motivation to reach out to people from all walks of life, from all backgrounds, and share her enthusiasm for electric vehicles, solar energy, battery storage, and autonomous driving software.