I got to spend a summer at Tesla Motors in Mountain View, California. Tesla was just launching the Model S car and I got to be part of the systems testing team.
I worked on three projects that summer. The first was to build an electric testing buck (test bench) that replicated the Model S electrical system. The second project was to automate manual testing. Third, I worked with the Tesla design team to create solutions to existing usability issues.
Electric testing buck
My first project was to recreate the Model S on a test bench for the engineering team. The goal was to build a functioning prototype with the entire electrical harness, leaving out the car frame and motor. Over the course of two months, we put the test bench together.
I started with the electrical harness of the whole vehicle in my hands! With the help of a technician, we connected the harness to components - the steering wheel, the head lights, the door latches. A few times I visited the factory in Fremont to source extra parts from vehicles used in crash testing! That was a pretty cool experience.
Automating manual tests
The Tesla engineering team released a new software version for the Model S touchscreen every few days. In the testing garage, technicians had to validate hundreds of tests manually and report bugs. Each testing cycle took several hours.
I worked with another intern to automate a large portion of these manual regression tests. We built a frame on top of the touchscreen with an actuator system that extended and tapped buttons. Then we wrote scripts in C that automated the actuators and ran tests. To determine the success of a test, we measured vehicle signals that told us whether there was a state change - a headlight turned on, or a door latch was opened. A test was then approved or rejected.
Wireframing solutions for the touchscreen
This was my favorite project in the internship :) It started when I was running some of the manual regression tests. I noticed some UI interactions were difficult to achieve when a person is driving or they were undiscoverable. I confirmed some of these hypotheses by user testing fellow interns.
I met Brennan on the design team and spoke to him about the usability issues I discovered. We decided that as I found more issues, I can paper prototype or wireframe potential solutions to the issue. He reviewed the changes and saw what could be incorporated into the design system. The design team ended up incorporating a change to the battery charge monitor and sun roof opener in the Model S UI!
My internship was an amazing experience. I went full-circle - building the test bench, automating tests for the bench, and designing solutions for issues that arise. I enjoyed the fast-paced environment at Tesla and I’m proud to have been on a team that produced a beautiful car. I’m grateful for the opportunity and the people I met there.