Eric has built a road legal electric car based on a VW Passat. He has driven it for more than 10 years and for over 90k miles. That was more than ten years ago, when EV wasn’t “the thing”. And he built it in his own garage using his knowledge and drive for experiments.
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This episode was recorded on July 12th, 2020
By just “tinkering in the garage” (his own words), Eric Tischer built a road legal electric vehicle more than ten years ago in 2008. In a time when EVs weren’t a thing and people weren’t familiar with the technology. With knowledge from his previous jobs, AutoCAD and an enthusiasm for car conversions, he converted a Volkswagen Passat into an electric car in his California garage.
After about a year and many experiments later, his commuter car was ready for the road. Since then, he has driven the Passat daily more than 90.000 miles, always improving and perfecting things step by step. The car he built in his garage landed him a job at Tesla, when it wasn’t the car company it is today. In the episode, Eric is talking about his insights into innovating, not just in the mobility sector. Listen to the episode and meet a person, that is very driven, confident and yet very humble.
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Mentioned in the episode
- Some background about the EV project at Wired
- Tech Shop
- The Secret Lives of Machines Website – Wikipedia
The transcript was created automatically and is manually edited. It might contain some errors. Click to open transcript.
Klaus: Eric Tischer, welcome to The 2pt5 podcast. Thank you very much for participating in this conversation. Thank you very much for being here.
Eric: No, thank you for having me. I’m excited to be able to share some of the ideas that I’ve gained through while I was tinkering in the garage and working at various jobs here in Silicon Valley.
Klaus: Eric, I came across you because I probably watched too many videos about EVs on YouTube. And at some point the YouTube algorithm popped up your video, your 10 years Passat clip. And I watched it, I was taken by this, I was really, really impressed by what you had done to the Passat, to the Volkswagen Passat. And before I talk a lot about this from my perspective, please, give us an idea. What did you do?
Eric: I had done a lot of engine conversions in the past, when I was in junior college, that’s before college. And I’d bought an MG Midget. It’s a little too-door convertible. And one of my friends had one, so we were always kind of playing around and racing, and I wanted to have more power in that car. So I took a Mazda Rotary engine and the five-speed transmission from it and I put it in that car. And that was kind of my first taste of that kind of engineering. I was fresh out of high school. And I got it running in, you know, one weekend, and I drove that for several years. And after that I had a 914, Porsche 914, and I put the Subaru Flat 4 turbo motor in that car. I blew up three of those motors in about two years. So I eventually switched to a Subaru Flat 6 and drove that for a number of years, sold that car, and I just wanted something more of a challenge. And I’d worked with a lot of variable frequency drives and servos and AC induction motors and big horsepower stuff at a job, as I figured this would be kind of the next challenge, it was to build an electric car. And this was in 2008 before there were any EVs on the market, really. And I saw this Volkswagen Passat that I wanted to convert on Craigslist (that’s kind of like the used car market place, here in the States). So I bought the car. It had a blown engine and I bought it with the intention of converting it into an EV. And I’d also bought an EV motor on eBay: it was a Ford Ranger electric motor built by Siemens (for Ford had scrapped their electric vehicle program, so there were hundreds of these motors on eBay) so I bought one of those for $600. And so now I had a car and a motor, and I just went from there, starting to design the adapter plate. The motor had an output gear instead of a shaft, so I had to make a special coupling to convert that gear into clutch lines to drive the transmission. All the other parts of the vehicle conversion were pretty straightforward, just welding brackets and battery racks and mounts. But the hardest part about my conversion is I was using an AC induction motor, and at the time there were no variable frequency drives that could drive that motor. All the industrial stuff was too small and they didn’t have the right voltage range for that size power. And there were no electric vehicle inverters on the market at the time, so I was really forced to design my own, and so I took a two horsepower variable frequency drive off the shaft, and I literally took a sawzall and cut out the IVTs, the transistors, isn’t it? And I scaled them up to, you know, from four amps up to the 300 amps and I scaled the feedback, the current trend drive, I scaled those down by the same amount. So in theory, this VFD should be able to run this, you know, 100 kilowatt motor without realizing it’s 100 kilowatt. It’s still gonna think it’s a two kilowatt motor.
Klaus: Okay, Eric. So what you’re saying is, um.. .for a normal person, you just used a lot of really strange words, lots of stuff that nobody would actually use in normal day to day language (Eric laughs). That’s kind of an odd thing. So you used the internet. You got some used parts or some new parts and somehow, miraculously, in your garage, an electric vehicle popped out more than 10-12 years ago. How come you do something like that? I mean, how did you know about these things? I mean, you have spent some money, maybe u$s20-25,000, you have spent a lot of time in your garage. What was your motivation to do that? I mean, that’s special. That’s not something that everybody is doing.
Eric: Yeah, these are the types of things you learn by doing. You can’t really go to school to learn how to build something that I built. And so it was just tinkering in the garage. I had never turned on an IGBT before (that’s the transistor pack). And so I just bought a couple of parts and started experimenting in the garage, literally on the floor of the garage at two in the morning, you know, trying to build circuits to get this to turn on a light bulb at first, and then turn a small motor, and then turn the large motor. And it’s those types of learning experiences that I really enjoy, because it’s something that no one else knows how to do. When you come out of college, everyone has the same education: they’ve all taken calculus, you know, that they’ve all had the same textbooks, they all have the same knowledge. And so this was a chance to do something that hasn’t been done before, and, I don´t know, I enjoy learning, I enjoy tinkering. It’s like playing with Legos in the garage for me. And so I actually enjoy it. It could be a little frustrating and a little bit daunting. You know, putting up a certain amount of money to take a chance on this thing actually working, but, um, yeah, I can’t be afraid of wasting money if you’re trying to innovate (laughter).
Klaus: (laughter) Very true. But you also have to live through some mishappenings, some terrible experiments, experiments gone wrong. You must have had that also. Not everything turns out right the first time.
Eric: Yeah, well, if you don’t blow something up, you’re not challenging yourself. If you don’t take any risks, then you don’t really learn anything. So, yeah, I blew up a $400 IGBT module the first time I tried spinning the motor. You learn something from that. That $400 was money well spent, in my opinion. Even though, you know, it blew up, it’s still… that knowledge is in my brain now of why it blew up, and now I know how to design an inverter that doesn’t blow up! (laughter)
Klaus: (laughter) Which is something really valuable.
Eric: Yeah, there’s something to be said about being able to do things hands on. School only teaches you so much. There’s a lot of people that have book knowledge, but employers really want someone who can make something. They don’t care about your book knowledge. And when I interview candidates at Tesla for jobs, their resume pretty much goes out the window. I don’t I don’t care where they went to school. I look at what projects they work on in their free time and, you know, what types of things are they learning outside of school. Because everyone who comes out of school is gonna have the same knowledge, like, what have they learned on their own and are they capable of learning? And so this project was kind of a showcase of all the skills that I had learned: deal with high DC voltages, and power electronics, drive tuning. It was kind of a conglomeration of all those skills that I was able to make these electric vehicles so part of building that car was just a showcase of my skill set. And, you know, for employers looking to hire someone, they can look at that car and immediately see that, you know, I am capable of producing functional equipment, which is, you know, what all employers need. You know, they want someone that can deliver the goods and not just be book smart.
Klaus: And we have to say that what you built is a fully functional, fully street legal VW Passat that was converted to an electric drive train with lots of electronics in their batteries and stuff which you developed the concept yourself, you put it together yourself, you did the experiments with it, and then now, more than 10 years later, and I think more than 90,000 miles later, you’re still using that Passat. It’s still on the road. It’s still going strong. And it’s like a daily commuter, at least for you for a long time. So that’s not something… it’s not a small experiment. It was something that is actually… it worked for a long time and is still running.
Eric: Yeah, I was driving it… when I worked at Tesla, when I first started, I was driving 100 miles round trip every day. So I’d drive it 50 miles to work, charge it, 50 miles home. And I was doing that every day. The car has power steering, power brakes, has air conditioning, a heater. I’ve done over 100 miles an hour on the freeway with it, climb all the California hills without any issue, keep up with traffic. I had it certified by the Air Resources Board. So I was able to get the carpool stickers and use the carpool lane commuting to work. So, yeah, it was the perfect vehicle for so long. And I now drive a Tesla Model 3. So I’ve scrapped out the parts from the Passat. It just didn’t make sense to have two 4-door electric sedans. And the Model 3 is just yeah, a leaps and bounds jump from where the Passat was. So I’ve since retired the Passat.
Klaus: Looking at that video, it’s… (I mean for me: I’m not an electronics guy, I have no idea about that), but I was really surprised by how many parts, basically, or elements you need to build an electric car, right? Normally, people say electric cars and EVs it’s just a big motor and a big battery, and that’s it. But actually, there’s so much more electronics involved and battery treatment. It’s not just a box with the battery inside. There is lots of controlling going on and heavy cables because it’s lots of amps in these systems. So, I mean, that is also like a physical risk if you work with that, and you did that. So did you experiment with that also? Did you have some sort of blueprint, or is it just a matter of experimentation?
Eric: Yeah, I may have drawn up the car in autocad to make sure that I had space for all the batteries. And that’s the biggest challenge with electric cars, it’s fitting the batteries, and so the Passat is a bigger car, so I can fit plenty of batteries and be capable of freeway speeds. Um, electric vehicle… most people do a simpler conversion with a DC motor, and so the controller for that is much more simple. Because the commutation is built into the motor, it has brushes. So using an AC induction motor requires much more complicated electronics to run because it’s generating three phase power in that inverter, and I think all the components in my car are exposed, and so it looks complicated: there is a separate battery charger, there’s a separate 12-volt battery charger, all the battery management is exposed, the inverter, all the contactors and fusing, that’s all open. But if you look at an off-the-shelf electric vehicle, all those things are more or less in one or two individual boxes, and so it looks much more simple. So it would be like if you had a gas engine and all the valve train was exposed, and all the cams were exposed, and the oil pump was separate. And that just comes from modernization. I did this before the Chevy Volt or the Nissan Leaf had come out, so I was kind of forced to buy a computer power supply for this part and battery charger for this part. So they’re all kind of separate and scattered, but at the time, that’s all that was available.
Klaus: I see what you mean. But still, you had to have… you had to be able to design the whole thing, put it together or find the right parts, basically off-the-shelf, re-use that, or change, adapt it to your intended use. And then sort of maybe make a mistake once in a while, and do an experiment, and then you end up with your electric car. A long time ago, basically, when electric cars weren’t a thing, what was… why did you wanna have an electric car? Was it like a special challenge? I mean, you worked with gas cars before, there’s lots of them around. What did you bring to…? You mentioned the solar panels that you have around your house. Is there some special motivation for you to work with EVs?
Eric: I did it all for the challenge. In my job, I work with large motor controllers and large motors all the time, and it seemed like kind of the next step above doing a gas car conversion. My last gas car conversion, I did in one weekend, from driving an air-cooled Volkswagen to a water-cooled Subaru engine. That was a weekend project. And so I wanted something a little bit bigger, more of a challenge, something that nobody’s done before, and because of all my work experience with these larger motors and controllers, it just felt like a natural fit. I’m doing all the programming to make extruders extrude plastic. It’s the same as turning the shaft on a transmission. And, you know, with enough batteries, you could make it work. And so I was just kind of a personal challenge to make it happen. And there’s a great learning experience.
Klaus: How long did it take you to build the Passat, or convert the Passat?
Eric: The entire process was about a year before I was able to actually drive it to the DMV and get it registered as an electric vehicle. All the mechanical portion was fairly easy. It was just welding battery racks. I took the motor and the transmission to a CMC shop that I work with, and they dialed in all the shaft center lines and dall pinholes to make an adapter. All that stuff was pretty straightforward. More than half the work was designing the inverter to run the motor because there was nothing off-the-shelf that I could buy to connect to that motor to make it run. The motor had no nameplate on it, so I couldn’t… I didn’t have any of the tuning parameters. So that was really a trial and error of getting the motor to spin in a simple mode, then adding torque control and getting to spin at freeway speeds. That was the biggest challenge, was in the software, in the firmware, dialed in to get the motor to run smoothly without any faults. And even four years later, I’m still making some minor tweaks to it. I don’t know if you want to know all the technical details of look up tables and the details of motor tuning, (laughter) but I think that might be a little boring for people, but that was the largest portion of work, was getting that motor to spin smoothly, with smooth torque and re-jam breaking.
Klaus: But you’re saying that that might be a little bit boring for other people, but it was fun for you, I suppose.
Eric: Yeah, it was a little frustrating. Now, if I were to do another conversion, I would just buy something off the shelf because those exist. But back then, my hand was kind of forced: if the project was going to succeed, that was the only option, was to build it yourself. And I’m glad I did because it was a big learning boost and a confidence boost. I look back and, you know, any problem that seems impossible… This was an impossible project, like so many people told me: “It’s never been done before.” “It’s not gonna work.” And there are still forums with people trying to develop an inverter for these motors and are still unsuccessful. So maybe a little bit of luck had to do with it. (laughter)
Klaus: If you had known before that the process would take a year, which you have started the project?
Eric: Um, I don’t know. It’s kind of a toss-up. I mean, you don’t realize the work involved. Everything seems simple. When you don’t understand the full scope of what’s involved. Trying to remember the.. the Hans Krueger factor. I forget what the name was. Basically if…, yeah, kind of hard question for me to answer, but if I were to start over, and I knew it would take a year, I guess I’d probably still move ahead with it, because it’s such a learning experience. That’s a year of learning that you’re not gonna get any other way. Like nobody’s gonna teach you how to build this driving murder. There’s no class that you can take, it’s really, you know, up to your own ingenuity to find a way to make it work, and having this car and driving it was kind of a rowing resume for me. They got me my job at Tesla. And so that was, you know, kind of a life-changing moment. Once that car was on the road, everyone knew me as “the electric car guy” as opposed to, you know, other things that people are known for. I was always known as “the EV guy” that built his own electric car. I can pop the hood and everyone’s impressed, and it was easy for me to go into Tesla for my interview and give them a presentation on my car and pretty much instantly hired.
Klaus: Did you also go to Cars & Coffee with your car?
Eric: I did once or twice, but here I think people are looking for chrome and nice paint. I don’t know that the electric vehicle gathered much attention. I went to a couple of EV car meets, and that’s more specific to electric vehicles. And I think I got much more attention there.
Klaus: You wanted to do something. It took you about a year to do that. You did a lot of experiments in your garage. You created a road legal EV at a time when it was not normal to have an EV on the road. That was 10-12 years ago, around 2009-2010, something like that. It was sort of a hobby for you, but you intended to have like a daily commute car, which you could have bought otherwise also. But that way you got to do something like that. You made it yourself. You made it your own. You had some support from people around you, and that sort of hobby landed you also a job. The interview for the job was basically looking at the car and explaining the functionalities and stuff like that.
Eric: Well, when you go in to interview at Tesla, you interview with all the managers, and you also give a 30-minute presentation on anything you want, a technical presentation that could be anything. So I did it on my electric car, and they were all very impressed with it. And I took them out to the parking lot and showed them. And it was the perfect way for me to portray that I have the skill set to build things, and that’s what they were looking for: someone who can start from a napkin sketch, design it, build it and actually have it driving for several years. And so that was the, you know, the perfect skill set for Tesla, obviously, because they make electric vehicles and deal with a lot of high power electronics. So pretty much a shoe in at Tesla. (laughter)
Klaus: So that was basically you wooed them with your ability to get things done, to sort of dream big in a way, to do some experiments yourself, to take a risk, to do something that hasn’t been done very often at that time. At what stage was Tesla at that moment when you joined them? How many people did they have or what was… how many cars had they sold at that time?
Eric: This was before the Model S, so they only had the Roadster and they were building some battery packs for Daimler, for the B Class, Toyota’s RAV4 electric. It was really just those three: of the RAV4, the B Class and the Roadster.
Klaus: That was like Tesla wasn’t a face when you joined them, before the Model S was on the market. They were sort of a smaller company. They built the Model S, they built the Roadster and they sort of built EV technology for other carmakers, like Daimler and Toyota, at that time.
Eric: Right. When I joined Tesla, this was before the Model S, before they had the Fremont factory, we were only building parts for the Roadster, the Toyota RAV4 and the Mercedes B Class and some other experimental packs. But yeah, there was no manufacturing equipment for Model S at that point, so we bought the first robot for the first work cell to make the Model S battery module as very early on and at the perfect time to join.
Klaus: That was probably also very good for you, not to be weighed down by a big corporate culture. But to be part of that smaller type of company that gave you also some freedom to act, I suppose.
Eric: Yeah, there was no red tape, there was no chain of command. It was really just a bunch of smart people in a giant room with a bunch of desks. There were no cubicle walls: that really was a shocker when I walked into the office and it was just a huge room with no cubicle walls and everyone’s desk was just littered with car parts. It was an excellent, innovative working environment because you could walk around and see on people’s desks, someone had you know, battery clamshell was 3-D printed and on their desk, and someone else had the car headlights, and someone else had gears from the transmission. And so you could just freely walk around and you could tell what people’s tasks were just by the parts on their desk. And so my desk had, you know, PLC racks and Cognex cameras, as we use them for machine vision. And so it really eliminated the computer from the communication avenue. You could just walk up and see what people are working on and say: “Oh, why is this designed this way?” “You know, I work on this part of the car and we could, you know, combine these two pieces together.” It was just a really open environment for communication. There was no red tape. There was no limitations on changes, and we had all the flexibility to make any change we want because there’s no existing car and everything’s still on paper. We had all the freedom to make changes that we wanted.
Klaus: There was something that actually fit also your work style. It let you cooperate with other people. It let you work on your projects freely, basically, and develop whatever you had as ideas or as assignments in mind.
Eric: You mean, at the time we weren’t really a car company, we were building powertrains for the Roadster. We were building batteries, battery chargers, we were building power electronics, and so it didn’t feel like we’re working for a car company where you have established models and if you have a change to make to a car, you wait until the next year’s model to release. Everything was really quick, everything was fast pace. It’s a very intense place to work and really rewarding. Me and my colleague were in charge of an entire robot workcell, so we built this entire robot workcell to manufacture part of the battery module, and it was just the two of us. It wasn’t a team of 40 people that had to have meetings and have a commission to agree on how things would be built. I was the controls guy. My colleague did all the mechanical portion and between the two of us, we built this entire robot workcell, and each part of the line was built in very small teams like that. And, yeah, it just gave us a large feeling of ownership towards the success of that machine. And I think it’s part of why Tesla was so successful. It’s, yeah, when you give employees full ownership of the process and it’s not up to teams agreeing on ways to build them. It’s just up to two people.
Klaus: You don’t design by committee. You designed by… you find the best solutions and are able to do that, to put that into practice. You don’t have to ask for a lot of permission.
Eric: If you’re trying to ramp up a manufacturing line very quickly, then the fewer cooks in the kitchen the better.
Klaus: Okay, Eric. So you started out with your EV conversion Passat to an electric vehicle. You did lots of stuff before that gave you the trust, the confidence and also the knowledge to do that. I wouldn’t touch anything like that at all. Not even 10 years, 20 years ago. So that’s really brave, I think, and courageous. That car landed you also a job at Tesla, got you lots of reputation of the E V guy, which is perfect, I think. But looking at your website, I see that you also like to travel. You said that you like to travel to Germany also. And so you discover new things. You like to discover new things, also, when you’re abroad. Do you consider yourself like an adventurer or a… I don’t know the words right now… Entdecker? Somebody who is sort of looking for new things all the time. Is that something that drives you?
Eric: I really like good food and meeting new people. Traveling around the US is kind of boring because no matter what state you’re in, the food’s always gonna be the same: it’s the same chain restaurants, the shopping centers are all the same stores, with the same products, As soon as I go to Europe, I just feel like it’s a step back in time: you’re walking down cobblestone streets that are hundreds of years old, the restaurants are all mom and pop places with homemade food, the food’s all different. I just like the little differences that you find in Germany. Like when you buy eggs, they come in a pack of 10 where in the US they come in a dozen. Kind of those funny little differences. That’s just like an alternative world where everyone’s driving different cars and different foods, different personalities. I like the old architecture, the timber-framed houses and the castles. There’s just so much… so many more things, interesting, compared to traveling in the US. And I’ve also traveled to India and part of Asia. Yeah, it’s just… it really feels like it’s more of a vacation, compared to the US, where every city is a cookie cutter, a copy of any city.
Klaus: When you drive, like, for two hours in Europe, you end up in another country or you might have passed through the other country already, right? So there’s lots of stuff very close nearby, and since there’s also different languages, society’s cultural things are very different from one country to another. We have the same money, basically, across Europe, we have a similar political system, with EU, so that’s kind of a nice thing that makes travelling also much easier because you don’t have to show your passport all the time, for example. So maybe we are on the way to be a United States of Europe at some point of time. Interesting to hear that you like to look at different things and you discover things in other countries, basically across the world. And you said you wanted to travel actually to Germany also now. But due to the Corona Covid 19 thing right now you’re not able to come. So, any plans for, like, next year?
Eric: Oh, yeah, I’ve managed to leave the US every year for the last 20 years, so it’s kind of an annual trip over the summer. We always go somewhere overseas. So I’m planning on continuing that tradition until the day I die. (laughter)
Klaus: Eric. But what you’re also doing is that you document what you do? Your travels, your trips? But also your work on cars? The Passat is well documented. You started a YouTube channel to show these things. What motivated you to do the YouTube channel? I mean, you said in the beginning that you are working in the garage a lot. And working in the garage, by yourself, maybe with some friends, is completely different than putting things out there to potentially millions and billions of people on YouTube. What was your motivation to start something like that?
Eric: For the travel portion, I have so many friends that say: “Oh, it would be a trip of a lifetime to go to Europe”, and they don’t realize how easy it is. It’s… I do it every year, and so I wanna show how easy it is. You just book a ticket (airfare’s cheap: it’s like $300 to fly from San Francisco to London), and I just want to show Americans this is attainable. You don’t have to wait until you retire to travel to Europe. You do it now, while you’re young. It’s not a big expense. It’s the same cost as flying across the United States at this point. And so for the travel aspect, I just want to show people how easy it is and how much more of a culture shock it is, as opposed to traveling to Las Vegas or New York. Yeah, it’s just such… I need experience, and all of my friends, you know. Every year I try and pick a new friend to take with me so they can see, and it’s not such a daunting task for them to take on by themselves. So every year I take a new friend with me and show them around Europe. And as for all the car work and the engineering projects, it’s just kind of my daily routine. That’s what I do every day, I just tinker in the garage and I figure, making repair videos of that. If me, creating a video for one hour, saves someone else five hours of troubleshooting, then it’s, you know, it’s like a confluence. I want to be able to share my knowledge with other people so that we could streamline these repairs. And all of the neighbors now give me their broken equipment. One of the neighbors gave me an amplifier that had stopped working, and I figured out how to debug the amplifier and posted the video on how to make the repair, because it’s a common flaw with that amplifier. And it’s just nice to see comments coming in, people saying: “Oh, you save me a bunch of repair money”, like “Thank you”. I’m a bit obsessed with efficiency. And if I can find, you know, the quickest way to repair something on a car, then if I post that it’s nice to know that I’m saving other people time.
Klaus: Nice. Sounds great.
Eric: Like all my friends and family know me as “a stickler for efficiency”, and I think it kind of dates back to this TV show I watched as a kid. It was called The Secret Life of Machines and they would take apart like a sewing machine or a photocopier and show how it works. And they did an episode on, uh, like an automotive factory and showing how it works. And in one of the examples they are talking about efficiency and they took a long-exposure photograph of a person working in a kitchen, and he had lights on his hands. And so you could see the light trails similar to tail light streaks in a long exposure car of a, you know, bridge, you can see the tail lights streak. And so in this long exposure, you could see all the motions that their hands were making throughout the process of cleaning the kitchen and so that I kind of see the world now with little ace on the ends of arms as I live through life and I see those light trails and see where hands are idle, and it’s kind of burning the a long exposure hot spot in the photo. And so that’s kind of another reason why I loved working at Tesla, as I could put my efficiency goggles on and see robots that are idle that could be moving, or see moves that could be faster and I just kind of live my life with these efficiency glasses on. So in our kitchen, I see my wife putting dishes away and, you know, we take dishes from the clean dishwasher, put them on the table, from the table to go in the sink from the sink they go into the dishwasher, from the dishwasher they go in the Cabinet. I see all these movements, and so I installed two dishwashers. And so now the dishes just come from the clean dishwasher to the table, from the table into the dirty dishwasher, so I eliminated 50% of the movement of those dishes. And so when the dirty dishwasher is full you run it, that one becomes clean and the other one’s empty. Yeah, it’s just kind of fun for me to maximize efficiency. I don’t know if that’s a quirk with me or if everyone (laughter) strives for efficiency in that in that way. I’m also a bit obsessed with having cords the right length. I bought a mouse for my laptop, and it came with a three foot cord, and it only needs to be six inches. So I cut the cord and re-soldered the cord to the circuit boards and the cord was just the right length for the mouse. You know, all these things that kind of annoy me with products I feel compelled to improve them, like I improved my car. You know, “the car would be better if it had this.” And so you know, I’ll design a way to add that feature. I don’t know if this is going off the rails of your podcast, but in terms of being an innovator, it helps to have an innovative environment to work in. I see so many of the people growing up today in the US. They’re growing up in apartments and they don’t have a garage full of tools. They never learn how to use a screwdriver. Some of the kids that my wife teaches in school have never used scissors before, and so I feel like we need to create more innovative environments. In Silicon Valley we have tech spaces like Tech Shop, where they have welders and CNC machines and all the tools that people need to build things, and it I feel like that’s really missing from our schools and budget cuts have always kind of taken which shop and some of the more technical trade school type classes out of out of our schools. And that’s a bit frustrating for me. Yeah, I could go on and on. I don’t know if that’s (laughter) if it’s off track or not.
Klaus: I understand that you ask: “Is that good for the podcast?” And I think it’s perfect for the podcast. It’s because such observations add up over time and then they produce such a wealth of… let’s put it that way… maybe knowledge, ideas, things that helped to improve something. And that’s what I’m looking for in these episodes of the podcast. At least in the end, there will be a very… kind of a giant picture of… a nice picture and incredible multifaceted picture. And that’s something I’m aiming for.
Eric: When I was working at Tesla, most automotive robots moved about two meters per second, and so that’s kind of the speed of everything at the factory. And, you know, managers would come by and say: “Why is this machine so slow?” And we say: “It’s running at 100%.” And they respond to us: “Start with the speed of light. That’s 100%. Work your way down from there.” And so everything came back to the first principles of physics. Like, if you’re moving a battery cell from point A to point B, what’s the fastest you can travel? What’s your limitation? You are going to pull 100 G’s of force and move it? Like we’re always taught to ignore how things are done currently? Look, you know, what’s the max limits of physics? Where do we… where is the part actually destroyed and trying to transport it too quickly? And so just that training was really a valuable part of working a Tesla, training your mind to look at things like that. Our machine designs were kind of graded on a metric of parts per minute per square foot, so we wanted to maximize throughput but also keep the machines very small. And so that is another metric that’s always the back of my mind. When I’m thinking about terms of efficiency, I think one of the things that stops people from taking on such projects is the cost. For example, if I want to learn how to weld, I’ll just go out and buy a welder and learn how to use it. And, you know, a welder might be $1200 people see that as: “I’m wasting $1200 if it doesn’t work out.” You always have to look at it: “how much you could sell that for after you’ve used it.” And so if I have used a welder for a year, I could still sell it for $1000. So that really cost me $200 to learn how to weld, where other people might see that as it costs $1200. They don’t look at the net results after a two year period. And so I urge people to invest in tools. And if you have the chance to buy the tools and do the work yourself rather than pay someone to do it, that’s an investment in your own capabilities, investment in your confidence, investment in your tool kit, that employers will be looking at when they need to hire someone. When I interview people at Tesla for a job, I always look at what they do in their spare time. Are they wrenching on their four wheel drive cars? Are they designing, you know, server racks in their garage? Those types of hands-on projects are really valuable when it comes to hiring employees. It’s something that shows that you have a passion for your work, and it’s not just, you know, something you’re forced to do is part of a college class. I think we need more people to be hands-on. This generation is… they’re losing that ability to build things because they’re working in apartments and they don’t have tools. You know, their parents weren’t there to kind of hand down that knowledge and work with them. So it’s always important to have an innovative work space around you to help you innovate. It doesn’t come from reading a book.
Klaus: Eric, I’m really glad we had that conversation. Thank you very much for being part of The 2pt5.Eric: You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.