Tesla's “bioweapon defense mode” has a ludicrous name but is a wonderful idea

biohazard testing
© Tesla Motors

Elon Musk has a penchant for silly names, hence Ludicrous Mode and now Bioweapon Defense Mode as the name for the air purification system on the Tesla’s Models S and X. It’s a HEPA (High-efficiency particulate arrestance) filter system that removes fine PM2.5 (particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) from the air. These particles, a thirtieth the diameter of a human hair, get lodged deeply in the lungs and are now considered one of the most dangerous pollutants. According to the EPA,

Roughly one out of every three people in the United States is at a higher risk of experiencing PM2.5 related health effects. One group at high risk is active children because they often spend a lot of time playing outdoors and their bodies are still developing. In addition, oftentimes the elderly population are at risk. People of all ages who are active outdoors are at increased risk because, during physical activity, PM2.5 penetrates deeper into the parts of the lungs that are more vulnerable to injury.

The EPA considers good quality air to have no more than 12 millionth of a gram per cubic meter of air (12 µg/m3). But in Los Angeles, it averages 20 and in Beijing, it averages 56, which according to a Harvard study quoted in the footnotes, reduces life expectancy by 23 months.

So really, it is terrific marketing to the Chinese market, where the air is so awful. As Will Oremus of Slate puts it, “ You could almost think of “bioweapon defense mode” as a diplomatic euphemism for “Beijing mode.”

line graph© Tesla Motors

As the graph shows, it is fast and it is effective, and it moves so much air that in fact it cleans the outside air too. As a cyclist and walker, I wish every car had one of these, and was electric too.

Tesla insists it is not just about marketing, and that they are serious about bioweapons.

Not only did the vehicle system completely scrub the cabin air, but in the ensuing minutes, it began to vacuum the air outside the car as well, reducing PM2.5 levels by 40%. In other words, Bioweapon Defense Mode is not a marketing statement, it is real. You can literally survive a military grade bio attack by sitting in your car.

According to Gizmodo, bioweapons experts are dismissive, noting that viruses are smaller than PM2.5 and you would have to know an attack is coming. But there are enough other pollutants, pollen, smoke and dust around that would make this very nice to have. As one expert told Gizmodo, “There are a lot of reasons why you would put a filter like that in, and only one of them is bioterrorism.” Like following Volkswagen diesels.

Tesla's “bioweapon defense mode” has a ludicrous name but is a wonderful idea
Particulates are a becoming a major health concern and the new HEPA filter on the Tesla cleans them up fast.

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