Skip to main content

Tesla's New Patent: A Complete Self-Cleaning Apparatus Built into a Robotaxi – “Sanitization Vapor, UV Disinfectants, Cleaning Mechatronics, Sanitation Robot Stations, & More”

Tesla has published a new patent showing how a possible ride-sharing robotaxi could be cleaned autonomously. Tesla envisions using disinfectant vapor, UV sterilization, ultrasonic sensors, camera vision, & robots to clean an autonomous vehicle.

A Tesla patent application has come to light, showing the EV maker is thinking long and hard about how car cleaning will evolve once we transition to fully autonomous vehicles.

At the recently held Tesla shareholders’ meeting, the EV maker showed off an autonomous ride-hailing app. The video shared by Tesla teases the company’s upcoming robotaxi feature and how a passenger can use the app to hail a vehicle driven by computer vision.

In the near future, Tesla hopes to allow people who have downloaded the Tesla ride-hailing app to summon a robotaxi to their current location and receive an autonomous ride to their destinations.

Tesla has yet to achieve level 5 autonomy, which is exceedingly difficult on its own. However, the EV maker is already asking how vehicle operations would evolve once the driver is removed from the equation.

Related News: A New Video Shows a Tesla Cybertruck Sustaining Moderate Damage Despite Rolling Over Multiple Times

Tesla’s newly discovered patent attempts to deal with the issue of vehicle cleaning and sanitization in the world of level 5 autonomous robotaxis. Currently, in any ride-sharing implementation, the car driver is responsible for maintaining the cleanliness of his/her vehicle.

However, in a robotaxi scenario, the question is, who will be responsible for cleaning level 5 autonomous vehicles? In the patent application, Tesla describes the issue by writing…

“Sanitation of enclosed spaces, such as passenger compartments and hotel rooms that may be occupied by different people, is highly important. In the setting of a vehicle cabin, especially those in shared vehicles, sanitation and disinfection between users are desired. Although shared spaces present advantages in cost, efficiency, and environmental sustainability, they also present disadvantages, such as increased rates of soiling and the facilitation of indirect transmission of communicable diseases through contaminated air or surfaces.”

Tesla continues to write…

“Current means for sanitizing shared spaces, such as manually wiping touch surfaces using disinfectant wipes, can be time-consuming, laborious, and untimely. Furthermore, current means for sanitizing an enclosed space might lead to ineffective sanitation because of the presence of blind spots or areas of an enclosed space that are difficult to reach.”

Tesla has laid out the problem, so what is the solution?

In short, the answer is a highly automated vehicle sanitation system that can clean the vehicle cabin using various components already found in a Tesla vehicle and additional components that will presumably be added to future Tesla cars.

Tesla has identified the first step to cleaning an autonomous vehicle as ensuring that no people, pets, groceries, electronics, or medication will be harmed by the cleaning process.

Tesla says a combination of computer vision, weight sensors, capacitive sensors, acoustic sensors (to detect human voices in the cabin), and ultrasonic sensors to detect movement can be used to ascertain that there aren’t any people, animals, or objects that should stop the cleaning procedure.

Once the system ensures the autonomous vehicle is unoccupied, it proceeds to the next step. This step includes a detailed description of the possible ways to clean a vehicle autonomously.

Tesla says it can clean the vehicle using a combination of the vehicles’ already built-in heat, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, UV light sterilization, sanitization mist deposition, heated surfaces, sunlight reflection, and positioning.

Some of the above-mentioned components, such as the HVAC system, are already present in all Tesla vehicles. However, the EV maker also envisions adding sanitization vapor systems that will spray the vehicle with sanitation mist, UV light sterilization systems, and infrared disinfecting systems to future vehicles.

Tesla envisions using a combination of these vehicle components “to reach a target combination of humidity, temperature, and light radiation to inhibit a particular type of bacteria or virus.”

For example, Tesla gives a scenario in which these vehicle components can be used to implement a sanitation protocol that can eliminate the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) from the vehicle cabin writing…

“Research statistics show that the half-life of SARS-CoV-2 would be around eighteen hours when the temperature is between 70°F to 75°F, the humidity is 20%, and there is no light radiation. 

However, the half-life of SARS-CoV-2 decreases to around six hours when the temperature is between 70°F and 75°F, there is no light radiation, and the humidity is increased to 80%.

On the other hand, the half-life of the SARS-CoV-2 would further decrease to around two minutes when the temperature is between 70°F and 75°F, the humidity is 80%, and there is light radiation. As such, the control system may use the HVAC system to adjust the temperature to between 70°F and 75°F, prompt the lighting controls to turn on light sources to irradiate vehicle surfaces and control the humidity controls such that the humidity equipment adjusts the humidity to 80% to inhibit the spread or eliminate the SARS-CoV-2 from touch surfaces or interior of an enclosed space.

In addition to emitting light and disinfection vapor toward the touch surfaces, the sanitation system may direct the HVAC system to adjust the temperature and/or humidity within an enclosed space to a certain level. More specifically, the sanitation system may cause the HVAC system to elevate the temperature in the enclosed space to around 56°C for thirty minutes to eliminate the SARS-CoV-2.”

This is one implementation of a cleaning routine that could be deployed between different robotaxi passengers that can be implemented to fight against transmitting the COVID-19 virus. However, Tesla says many more cleaning protocols for other bacteria and viruses can be loaded onto the vehicle to stop the spread of more diseases.

This is wonderful; however, Tesla also notes that this elaborate cleaning procedure might be energy-consuming, and the EV maker has put forward other more energy-efficient sanitization options.

Related News: Tesla Has Produced the First Batch of Tactical Gray Cybertrucks Intended For Customer Deliveries

Here is where sunlight comes in. Tesla says the vehicle can use onboard sensors and weather data to determine whether sunlight could be used for sanitation.

In this implementation, Tesla envisions that once the vehicle has determined favorable weather conditions, the sanitization system can automatically open windows and sun visors to let in more sunlight.

Tesla also states that the sanitation system can instruct the full self-driving system to position the vehicle to receive more sunlight. This could be done by repositioning the vehicle’s sides to receive sunlight and autonomously moving to a non-shaded parking spot or a non-shaded lane on the road.

Tesla also envisions using the mechatronics able to tilt and move the center touch screen to reflect light to exact locations in the cabin. Tesla gives an example of directing the sunlight to the passenger compartment and other highly interacted vehicle surfaces.

While we are on touch surfaces, it is also worth mentioning that Tesla plans to use computer vision and capacitive sensors to determine all the vehicle surfaces a previous passenger has interacted with.

Tesla then wants to use this data to further improve efficiency by focusing deep cleaning efforts only on the parts of the vehicle a passenger has interacted with.

To better utilize all the above-mentioned cleaning procedures, Tesla also envisions employing mechatronics that will automatically move the seats forward or backward, open and close the glove box, and retract and extend the seat belts to facilitate the cleaning process better.

This is all well and good; however, at this point, you might be thinking, what if the autonomous ride-hailing vehicle needs more deep cleaning? Tesla has also considered this. The EV maker states that once the vehicle’s sanitation system determines the need for more deep cleaning, the vehicle will autonomously drive to a sanitation center.

Here autonomous cleaning robots can be utilized to clean the vehicle more thoroughly. In this scenario, Tesla imagines the vehicle sanitization system performing an automated handshake that will instruct the cleaning robots on the type of sanitation requirement the vehicle has.

Overall, this is exciting to read, and it’s fascinating to see how Tesla is working to tackle some possible issues that will arise in the future of autonomous vehicles.

Currently, this is all the information we have; however, we’ll be sure to keep you posted once we learn more about Tesla’s plans. Until then, make sure to visit our site,, regularly for the latest updates.

So, what do you think? Are you surprised to learn the level of automation and technology needed to clean a vehicle autonomously? Also, what pitfalls do you see in Tesla’s plan to implement an automated sanitation protocol? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below by clicking the red “Add new comment” button.

Image: Courtesy of Tesla, inc.

For more information, check out: I’m Getting Constant Insults When Out in Public in My Tesla Cybertruck – If It’s the Exposed Stainless Steel That Triggers People, I’m Considering Wrapping My Cybertruck

Tinsae Aregay has been following Tesla and the evolution of the EV space daily for several years. He covers everything about Tesla, from the cars to Elon Musk, the energy business, and autonomy. Follow Tinsae on Twitter at @TinsaeAregay for daily Tesla news.