Echo Auto – Alternative to Echo Dot and Hotspot

So a few months ago when I got my Tesla Model 3, I installed an Amazon Echo Dot in vehicle to provide Spotify services and the spate of Alexa services available through our account. The way this works is that the Dot is powered by the USB and pairs to a WiFi hotspot running on a Samsung Tablet we own. The tablet connects to our cellular service and as long as we’re in range of a tower, we have all of our Alexa services. The only problem we have is that the wifi hotspot needs to be turned on manually (and turned off manually) and this of course depletes the battery on the tablet. On several occasions, I forgot to turn the hotspot off and came back to a depleted tablet. Of course I have a MicroUSB connector in vehicle to charge the tablet back up but it’s still a minor inconvenience. Of course there is now a better, more seamless way, to get what I want: The Echo Auto (which just left beta).

The Echo Auto pairs seamlessly with my cellular phone via the Alexa application. Once it’s paired via Bluetooth, all Alexa commands go through my Tesla Model 3’s onboard stereo. This effectively uses the Alexa application as a hotspot and prevents the problem of leaving the hotspot on. Now I still have that option if I choose but this set up is quite a bit easier and less error prone. The biggest problem I had so far has to do with where to mount the Echo Auto. The bracket included is designed to sit in a vent. Well the vent in the Tesla Model 3 is not very accommodating. For the moment, I’m using the vent behind the center console in the passenger area. While this works, the MicroUSB wire is a bit short so I’m using a USB Extender. All-in-all, it seems to work. I may get a longer extension cable and if I’m feeling particularly handy, I might see about hiding the USB wire to make the experience look snazzier. But for the moment, it works and does what I expect. My Spotify account on my phone is not the unlimited version but my wife’s is so I expect she’ll use the feature a bit more than me.

The next step will be to see what Alexa skills might be nice for the vehicle. Being hands free is certainly safer than interacting with the phone at a stoplight. Nevertheless, I look forward to a longer-term experience. The Echo Auto retails for $50 on Amazon, though I was able to get it as part of the beta program at half price. It also is accommodating of vehicles besides Tesla Model 3, but for now that’s where she sits. Pretty cool!

Adding Homelink Garage Door Opener to my Tesla Model 3

My Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus (SR+) is amazing right from the factory. However, I was surprised to learn that it didn’t include the Homelink connection that my 2014 Chevrolet Volt had stock. When I went to open the garage door, I found out that this feature was an add on. So for the past several months, I’ve been using the garage door remote or my cell phone’s app to open and close my garage door. At first I thought this was just an oversight and perhaps Tesla was “nickle and diming” me for the upgrade. However, I discovered by doing some digging on the internet that the hardware for the Homelink was indeed an upgrade because it needs to tap into the proximity sensors on the vehicle to open and close the door automatically. This changes things somewhat because now instead of having to press a trigger button (or running an app), the car will “know” that I’m there or leaving and that’s indeed new functionality. I just ordered this feature and I’ll follow up when it’s available. However, I’m looking forward to testing this feature out. At least I’ll have an on-screen button and not have to rely upon either the remote or the cell phone app so it’s all good. Wish me luck!

An impractical use of a wireless USB stick?

My brother gave me a USB wireless stick recently; it’s called a Sandisk connect and holds 16 GB of space. It can plugin as a USB stick and when unplugged it can connect wirelessly to a PC, Mac or smart phone; alternatively, you can use an on-the-go (OTG) connector and plug it directly into your smart phone (in particular I have a Samsung Galaxy S9+ with USB-C port). This set up becomes useful inside the Tesla Model 3 with Sentry Cam. By plugging the stick into one of the front USB-A ports (i.e. conventional USB plug), the stick can record up to 16 GB of footage from the front, right and left cameras. After unplugging the stick from the Tesla, it can be used with the OTG connector and an app on my phone to watch the correlated footage from the three cameras to get an understanding of what was going on around the car. All of this can be done with a conventional USB stick of size 16 GB or higher (though the sentry cam software won’t take advantage of the additional space); some folks have partitioned their USB sticks and used any additional space for music, but since my Sandisk is only 16 GB, there’s no need to partition it. An annoyance is removing the USB stick from the vehicle and plugging it into the phone. Since the Sandisk cannot both be on wireless and USB, it must be removed from the USB socket if I were to allow it to wireless connect to my Mac or my phone. On the iPhone, the SentryCam software can wirelessly connect to the Sandisk without having to plug it into the phone, though I don’t know if there’s an OTG for the lightning connector. The TeslaCam software on the Galaxy doesn’t permit wireless connection to the Sandisk however. As such, it’s not a whole lot better than a conventional USB stick.

For my unconventional connection, I use a USB hub to connect from my Model 3 to the Sandisk. This hub, by Sabrent, has on and off toggles for each of the four USB ports. I’ve discovered when I unmount the Sandisk (via the dashboard) and press the toggle button off for that particular port, that I can power up the wireless on the device without having to remove it from the port. I can then wirelessly transfer the sentry cam footage from the sandisk to my galaxy phone. After that, I can use the TeslaCam software to peruse the footage I transferred over. It’s not quite like reviewing the sentry cam footage in place, but it’s not bad so long as I have space on my phone to transfer the videos. To make this even more impractical, I took a 128 GB USB stick and attached it to my Galaxy and transferred the sentry cam footage to the USB stick wirelessly to not take up additional space on my phone. I then used the TeslaCam software to review the footage on the 128 GB stick as if it had been plugged into the Model 3 in the first place.

Overall, the experiment worked as I’d expected and while it’s not necessarily efficient or practical, it does work. If there’s any interest, I’ll describe the apparatus and procedure in detail. In the meantime, it’s nice to know there’s a work around. The Sandisk is a relatively inexpensive item and can be made to wirelessly transfer to a home network or point-to-point. I discovered the setup and made it all work for me. Many thanks to my brother for the stick, to Sandisk for their device, to ES File Explorer for their support of the WebDAV/FTP protocol and to TeslaCam for the software to correlate the footage. I’ve also found an open source sentry cam project and extending it for the WebDAV protocol (and especially for this apparatus) could be done as a side project.

If you have any questions, please email me at vwtesla2019@gmail.com or post to the facebook group; I’d be happy to answer.

First Trip in our Tesla Model 3 to Pinetop-Lakeside

Hello Fellow Travelers!

So our daughter needed to be dropped off in Pinetop-Lakeside for camp in June 2019 and we decided to take our Tesla Model 3 for the trip. Here’s the breakdown for our trip scenarios:

Distance from Gilbert to Payson Supercharger: 83.1 Miles

Distance from Payson Supercharger to Quality Inn, Pinetop-Lakeside: 99.4 Miles

Total Distance per length: 83.1 + 99.4 = 182.5 Miles (each way)

Round Trip from Gilbert to Pinetop-Lakeside: 182.5 * 2 = 365 Miles

Minivan Scenario:

Fuel economy = 20 Miles/Gallon

365 Miles / 20 Miles/Gallon = 18.25 Gallons

Fuel Costs = 18.25 * 3.00/gallon = $54.75 (Round Trip)

Total Fuel = $54.75 * 2 = $109.50

Tesla Model 3 Scenario (Estimated):

Supercharger Costs: ($8 Each occasion)

Destination Charger in Pinetop-Lakeside: $10 with stay

Destination Charger in Pinetop-Lakeside: $25 with no stay

Total Costs: $8 * 4 + $10 + $25 = $67 (Round Trip)

Tesla Model 3 Scenario (Actual):

Supercharger Costs: $0 (Drew from pool of 5000 free supercharger miles)

Destination Charger in Pinetop-Lakeside: $10 with stay

Destination Charger in Pinetop-Lakeside: $0 (Comped)

Total Costs: $10

So you can see that while we wouldn’t expect a comped destination charger, nevertheless, we spent a paltry $10 vs $109.50 for a savings of nearly $100. Given the availability of Superchargers and destination chargers, we suffered no range anxiety, either. There are some more specifics I could have captured including the actual times for our breaks in Payson (in terms of minutes), the exact amount of charge added (in miles), the exact amount of costs at the supercharger (without using the pool of miles); however for a back-of-the-napkin estimate, the above analysis should be pretty close. In terms of dollars and sense, one can easily see how traveling along the supercharger network and taking advantage of destination chargers can really save you a lot of money that can be applied elsewhere to offset costs in your trip. It’s nice to see that Teslas make as much dollars as they do sense 🙂 For the video of the trip, visit our YouTube channel (VWTesla2019). And as always, if you purchase a new Tesla (any model) please use our promotion code at https://ts.la/FredLaura49219

Alexa for Fun and Profit

Today’s exercise was purchasing a newer Amazon Echo Dot and attaching it to our Tesla. In short, I needed to plug the Dot into the USB Outlet in the front of the car for power and then pair it up with my Samsung Tablet with a Wi-Fi hot spot. The audio is paired with the Tesla so it comes out of the speakers via Bluetooth. You might not think having Alexa services add a lot to your car, but a lot of the telemetry can be retrieved with a simple audio query. “Computer (or whatever wake word you choose), how much battery range do I have.” Now of course that’s on the display but other items are available that would require futzing with the display; anything that keeps you focused on the road ahead is a benefit. Plus you can ask queries such as “Computer, who’s my senator” and since it knows we’re in Arizona, it lists of Martha McSally and Kirstin Sinema. If I ever drive Lyft, it might be nice to add this as a service to passengers too. And with Spotify integration, this apparatus saves me having to install the premium data package from Tesla, at least for now. It’s a very easy set up and the only real difficulty is that when the power is cycled, the Echo Dot loses connection to the tablet’s hotspot. It’s a minor inconvenience when restarting and is usually resolved within 3-5 minutes after restarting the vehicle. I’ll post the details in an upcoming YouTube video on the VWTesla2019 channel. Very cool indeed!

Referral Codes

So it looks like I have a referral link from Abstract Ocean for those wanting to customize their Tesla. http://rwrd.io/4csjqi3 . I’ll be adding this to the YouTube channel as well. The first item I’m planning on adding will be a screen protector. It looks like that will run around $20 with a $10 discount. I think I’ll create a “Father’s Day” bundle. I love the look of the puddle lights too but I can’t really justify it at this point. Other items to add include additional USB-C chargers for my and Laura’s phones and maybe two more for the back seat. In addition, adding “Y” connectors will allow us to add the USB key for the Sentry mode and perhaps another key with some music on it. I’d like to get some cleaning cloths as well even after the screen protector is in place. I’ll also need a USB wire for the Samsung Tablet since that’s MicroUSB. A USB hub might be a good alternative to the Y connector, too. At some point, adding a mount for the Gear 360 fish eye lens might be worth it as well. Since it records both directions we can see what’s going on behind the driver as well which can make for some compelling video too.

The first 24 hours

Well, Leia has been in the family for 24 hours now. She’s settled into the garage and while we haven’t done a ton yet, we’re already seeing some of the benefits and limitations. The car came paired with LTE/4G connectivity but we connected to our Wifi this morning. Since we chose the Standard Range+ package, apparently Homelink isn’t included. This means we cannot use the integrated garage door remote without a $300 upgrade. Since we have conventional garage door remotes we have alternatives. We can also use the MyQ/Chamberlain application. Whether we decide to do the $300 upgrade at some point is an open question but not having homelink was not anticipated. Also, the connectivity package does not include a web browser stock. Instead, it appears that Tesla wants a $100/year upgrade to add full browser capability and music streaming. In the short term, this might not be worthwhile given how we usually drive; however, there’s an opportunity to employ advertising wrap to the vehicle for a form a passive income to offset the cost of the communication package. Whether we decide to advertise remains very much an open question. Laura is somewhat less enthusiastic about driving around in a billboard but all things are negotiable. I love having the ability to extend the cabin via the Web and having more features will allow guests who ride with us to ask more and better questions; that could lead to better sales down the road. All in all, a very enthusiastic 24 hours indeed. Now…to figure out how to monetize the YouTube channel.