How Do You Test Tesla’s Optional HEPA Bioweapon Defense Mode? Put a Model X In a Bubble FIlled With Nightmare Pollution

As you might expect, California automaker Tesla Motors is very proud of its cars. And with good reason too: the Tesla Model S is the only full-size luxury car on the market today with growing sales figures (partly because it is stealing customers from every other premium marque), is one of the safest cars on the road today, and has some truly impressive semi-autonomous technology — branded Tesla Autopilot — that will take over some of your daily driving duties for you.

Usually, it’s fairly simple to promote and advertise these points to a would-be customer. Efficiency and range per charge can be quoted using official fuel economy test data. Crash test results can do the same for the car’s safety features (although Tesla also relies on first-hand testimonials to drive the point home). As for Autopilot? That can be demonstrated pretty easily with a short test drive.

HEPA Biohazard Defence Mode: how good is it?

HEPA Biohazard Defence Mode: how good is it?

But for the latest must-have option on a brand-new Tesla — the HEPA Bioweapon Defense Mode — Tesla’s marketing team had to get super-creative. After all, the optional high-tech system, which Tesla boasts uses a medical-grade HEPA filter to remove pollen, bacteria, viruses and pollution, isn’t something you can easily experience or measure in everyday life. What’s more, not every Tesla test drive is going to take place along a heavily polluted arterial highway or through a smog-encrusted city like Shanghai, Paris, or Los Angeles.

In other words, the only way to prove its system works was to do what Mark Watney, fictional hero of Andy Weir’s The Martian would do: science the s&*t out of it.

The high-tech filtration system is already proving popular -- but how good is it?

The high-tech filtration system is already proving popular — but how good is it?

And that, according to Tesla’s most recent blog post, is exactly what it did, enclosing a brand-new Tesla Model X into an hermetically sealed air cocoon, pump it full of heavily polluted air, and see what happened next. It’s part advert, part experiment, and pretty darned impressive. We want to call it an “experitorial” or perhaps a “demosperiment”

Pumping in air containing the equivalent of more than 1,000µg of PM2.5 per cubic meter, Tesla engineers put on their gas masks, placed air quality measuring kit both inside and outside of the Model X, and commanded the Model X to close its trademark falcon wing doors. They then waited to see what would happen next.

What’s PM2.5 we hear you ask? PM is short for particulate matter, the small particles which float in the air we breathe. They can include things like dust and dirt, but also soot, smoke and liquid droplets, as well as airborne pathogens like the viruses which cause the common cold or flu. The 2.5 refers to the diameter of the particles.  PM 10 — that’s particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter, are considered a health risk to humans and other mammals because they are small enough to be inhaled into and out of the respiratory system. PM 2.5 — 2.5 micrometers in diameter — are considered even more harmful since their size (less than 1/30th the width of an average human hair) can easily cause them to become lodged in the tiny Alveoli unique to a mammal’s respiratory system, causing respiratory discomfort, infection and in some cases, cancer.

The system will no doubt be popular with customers in less picturesque places.

The system will no doubt be popular with customers in less picturesque places.

Without a fully matured immune system or full-size lungs, children are particularly at risk of lung damage from PM2.5, as too are the elderly or infirm, many of which have a weakened immune system. While all healthy individuals regardless of age can inhale small quantities of PM2.5, the U.S. EPA considers 12µg of PM2.5 per cubic meter (equivalent to an Air Quality Index of 50 on the revised AQI breakpoint scale) to be the highest concentration of PM2.5  at which its ‘good’ air quality rating index no-longer applies.

While most major cities around the world hover somewhere between Unhealthy and Very Unhealthy — 55.5µg -250.4µg of PM2.5 per cubic meter (an AQI of 151-300) — only the occasional spike — like the record-breaking Smog of Beijing last November — has come close to the level of polluted air pumped into the sealed bubble for Tesla’s demosperiment. Even then, Beijing’s record-breaking smog was only around two-thirds of the level of pollution used by Tesla in its experitorial.

Teslas system is very impressive.

Tesla’s system is very impressive.

Which brings us back to Tesla’s experiment cum advertisement. As the graph above shows, the Model X reduced air pollution inside the luxury electric SUV from being dangerous to life to being well below normal background levels within two minutes. Its air quality filtration system then began to have an effect on the air inside the sealed bubble too, removing around 40 percent of the PM2.5  outside the Model X too.

It’s all very impressive, showing just how valuable Tesla’s HEPA Biohazard Defence Mode could be for those who live in heavily polluted cities around the world or to those who have major issues every spring when various plants and flowers produce pollen.

“You can literally survive a military grade bio attack by sitting in your car,” Tesla proudly proclaims. While we’re not sure we’d go that far, it’s certainly a worthwhile feature if you’re worried about worsening air quality in your local city, have someone with respiratory problems in your family, or are worried about being the victim of some future air-borne pathogen intent on destroying life as we know it.

Either way, we think it’s a nice-to-have feature. That is, if you can afford the cost of your Tesla plus the $3,000 premium package that the HEPA Bioweapon Defence Mode is part of.


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