The Tesla Cybertruck’s many features are now appearing as patents that the automaker has submitted to the United States Patent Office, and one of the most notable is the tonneau, or truck bed cover. While the retractable design of the tonneau provides convenience at the touch of a button for owners, it will protect any goods or cargo that drivers will store in the Cybertruck’s massive bed. However, the design is now hinting toward even more versatility and usefulness as the patent describes the potential use as a solar panel that will provide range for the all-electric truck by capturing the sun’s energy.
In Tesla’s newly published “Integrated Tonneau Cover for a Vehicle” patent, several inventors submit their idea and designs for the Cybertruck’s fully mechanical tonneau cover. Guided along a set of channels in the bed of the truck, the tonneau cover will provide protection for any cargo that is stored in the back of the vehicle. Whether it be tools or luggage, the tonneau cover is Tesla’s way of giving owners a way to protect their belongings without having to purchase expensive aftermarket bed covers, which other trucks do not provide. The retractable tonneau is shown in the images below.
“In order to mitigate the possibility of such damage, many truck owners install aftermarket truck bed covers that cover the bed of their truck,” the patent states. “However, not only may such aftermarket truck bed covers be difficult to install, they also may not fit exactly with the specifications of the truck beds of different models of trucks. If a truck bed cover does not have an accurate fit it can leak rain or snow through the gaps between the truck bed cover and the walls around the truck bed, and cause cargo damage. In addition, not only are many aftermarket truck bed covers difficult to install and inconvenient to use, but they also take up space in the truck beds and reduce the overall utility of the trucks.”
The tonneau, in a revolutionary new design, will also be able to recharge the vehicle’s battery pack thanks to 110 solar electric cells that are electrically connected to a photovoltaic charging system and battery. “When the tonneau cover is deployed to cover the bed and the solar electric cells that make up the slats are facing the sun, the battery within the electric vehicle can be charged by solar electric cells,” the patent states.
While solar panels on an electric vehicle have been looked at as a possibility in the past, the idea has never come to fruition due to ineffectiveness. Because a car doesn’t provide much surface area, to begin with, the contribution of charge from solar panels would be minimal, and it would require extremely clear and favorable weather conditions to provide any effective additional range to the vehicle. However, CEO Elon Musk hinted just days after the Cybertruck’s unveiling event in November 2019 that Tesla would be adding an option to add solar power that could generate up to 15 miles per day. Musk also hinted toward “fold-out solar wings” that could generate an additional 30-40 miles per day, which could alleviate the need to stop at a Supercharger for some owners.
Will be an option to add solar power that generates 15 miles per day, possibly more. Would love this to be self-powered. Adding fold out solar wings would generate 30 to 40 miles per day. Avg miles per day in US is 30.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 22, 2019
The tonneau would be completely covered in solar electric cells, and the patent claims that when the “truck bed cover is in a closed position, it is configured to recharge the battery pack, the closed position of the truck bed cover enabling the plurality of solar electric cells to face a sun.”
Musk also hinted toward the possibility of installing solar cells on the roof of a potential Tesla van with Joe Rogan in a podcast interview earlier this year. Musk said that the van would be a favorable design due to its “big, flat area,” and “solar could start to make a little more sense.” Because the tonneau is flat and covers a considerable surface area, there is some potential for it to be just as effective as Musk’s idea for the van.
The full patent document is available below.