Tesla is notorious for developing world-class innovations that are revolutionizing the automotive industry with new-age features and technological advancements being released at rapid speeds. But in its latest innovative feature, the future-forward company, now valued at $1 trillion, looked to decades-old technology that is commonplace in commercial airplanes.
Tesla isn't looking to design a flying car, or even a car with higher crash-test ratings. Yet, the new feature is a life-changer and for many a life-saver: medical-grade HEPA filtration systems built into the Models Y, S, and X that remove up to 99.97 percent of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and any airborne particles.
It's referred to as Biodefense Mode or Bioweapon Defense Mode and it is improving something that is equally as important as safety--if not, arguably, more important: health.
The new feature that is, in reality, anything but new is an example of Elon Musk's brilliant four-word innovation strategy to engineer the future: look to the past.
In fact, while the HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter became a common component in commercial airplanes in the 1980s, the first one dates back to the 1940s. It was said to have been developed by the research and development firm Arthur D. Little under a classified government contract, where the first atomic bomb was developed during World War II.
At Tesla, futuristic innovations under the hood are not happening by engineers looking to the future, but to the past. It's not just in Musk's innovation strategy, it's in the name of the company, named in honor of the electrical engineer and physicist Nikola Tesla, who was famous for discovering alternating current electricity.
By looking at what has been done, you are able to more effectively build what could, or even should, be done in the future. In doing so, you don't even need to be the first to do something; you just need to be the first to do it really well or at the right time.
For example, Tesla isn't the first to release passenger vehicles with HEPA filters built-in. HEPA filtration systems have become increasingly common in India, a country where air quality is notoriously toxic, with air pollution causing the death of nearly two million people per year. But the issue of air quality is not isolated to India. it's a worldwide problem and ultimately a human issue.
So while the number of hours spent in the car may sound nominal, at around 14,000 miles per year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, or around one hour per day, the number of people who suffer from airborne allergies is increasing, affecting 10 to 30 percent of the worldwide population. In other words, something like air quality impacts the lives of billions.
For Tesla, strategic innovations doesn't mean developing new and unheard of technologies, but re-imagining how existing technologies can be deployed in new and meaningful ways. Tesla is engineering the future by looking to the past. It's why it still copies one lesson from Ford's 112-year-old playbook, and why it's now taking variables that are outside of a driver's control--such as air quality--and improving the lives, health, and safety of those within the vehicle.
It's what every business should do when innovating: Look to the past to make a difference without entirely reinventing the wheel. As Tesla sells more cars than ever, It's not about adding another button to make Spotify more accessible or another row of seating. It's about using new applications of well-developed and often decades-old technologies to release life-changing and even potentially life-saving features.