As promised by Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk on Sunday, the Californian automaker has just revealed a new over-the-air software update for owners of its Model S luxury electric car which it hopes to push to all customers in around ten day’s time. What’s more, it includes two brand new features which Tesla hopes will not only tackle the real spectre of range anxiety among first-time owners but also make it ‘impossible’ for a Tesla Model S owner to run out of charge in their car without intentionally setting out to do so.
These two features, called Range Assurance and Trip Planner, make use of the wireless Internet connection built into every Tesla Model S, along with Tesla’s integrated network of super-fast Supercharger stations.
Other features included in the 6.2 updates include mainly improvements to accelerator and brake mappings, but also mark the inclusion of a Valet Mode and improved top speed for owners of Tesla’s latest car, the Tesla Model S P85D, as well as the switching on of active safety features such as automatic safety braking, side collision warning system and blind spot warning system.
Of the two headlining features, Range Assurance works by constantly running in the background on every Tesla Model S ever made, polling Tesla’s rapidly-expanding Supercharger network every second or so to ensure that the car won’t be driven out of range of a nearby, free, functional charger.
Because it operates in real time, the system can even automatically send a customer to a new destination if a supercharging station goes off-line or suddenly becomes busy, ensuring that customers aren’t left queuing for a charge, and does so completely under the surface.
Moreover, the Range Assurance application will collect data from weather services and mapping software to take into account any drop in range caused by elevation or weather changes.
“It makes it impossible for the driver to run out of range unless they intentionally try to,” said Musk, adding that even then “they’d have to say ‘yes, I’m going to run out of range’ twice.”
In other words, Tesla seems to have found a way to stop people Brodering their cars.
The second headline feature comes courtesy of the Model S’ on-board route planning software. Working in concert with the Range Assurance system, it uses real-time data to plot the most logical, convenient route for you to take. Like the Range Assurance system, it is fully dynamic, and can change its route planning if there’s a chance of situation at a Supercharger or charging station en-route.
Where the Trip Planner comes into its own however, is the way in which it manages charging. As well as sending customers to the fastest possible charger and the most convenient charger — favouring Superchargers over lower-speed charging options — the route planner predicts remaining range on arrival and for the first time also calculates how long customers will need to spend charging at each location before moving on.
At each charge stop, the software will then notify the car’s owners via the Tesla smartphone app that their car has enough charge for the next leg of their trip, negating that oh-so familiar ‘checking on the car’ twitch that many plug-in car drivers have when waiting for their cars to charge on a long trip.
Its’ a clever move for Tesla too, since it advocates charging until you’ve got ‘just enough’ rather than spending extra time getting unnecessary charge. Since an electric car takes far longer to charge when nearly full, it also helps keep cars flowing in and out of supercharger sites.
Also included in the 6.2 update when it debuts in around ten days will be the inclusion of the much-requested ‘Valet’ mode, allowing owners of the Model S to hand over the keys of their car and intentionally restrict power and performance when being driven by an inexperienced — or untrusted– driver.
Musk said that Tesla is also “slowly waking up” many of the sensors included as standard in all Tesla Model S cars built after early October last year, switching on new safety features like automatic safety braking, blind spot warning system and cross collision warning on for the first time.
Owners of the flagship Tesla Model S P85D will also find their car’s top speed has been increased to 155 mph after applying the update.
Autopilot features coming in 7.0
Looking forward, Musk was reluctant to preview the upcoming major revision of Tesla’s operating system, but did say that a “Major UI” update would be forthcoming with system 7.0 to make it more intuitive to use alongside all-new autonomous drive features: auto steer and valet park mode.
Revealing that Tesla has been testing its autonomous vehicle technology by driving from San Francisco to Seattle, Musk said that Tesla’s autonomous drive software is at a level where it’s possible for its engineers to drive almost completely autonomously between the two cities without requiring driver input.
For the 7.0 update however, he said, Tesla wouldn’t be bringing that level of autonomy to customers’ cars quite yet. Instead, update 7.0 — due in about three or four months’ time — will add auto steer functionality when travelling on highways or freeways with clearly-defined lanes. Although the cars themselves are capable of autonomous drive in lower-speed urban and suburban environments, Musk said safety concerns about driving in suburban neighborhoods with no safety markings means that functionality will come at some point later.
What will be enabled for 7.0 however, is the highly-anticipated automatic valet mode. Only available when the car is located off a public highway on public land, the Model S will be able to ‘meet and greet’ its owner in the morning, summoned by the Tesla Smartphone App. In the evening, the car will also be capable of parking itself and, joked Musk “even close the garage doors.”
Of future plans, Musk was keen to keep focus during today’s conference call on the Model S and the new software update, but did indicate that the Model X crossover SUV — due this summer — will naturally come with the same features now being introduced to Model S cars, as well as debut some “exciting new features that the show Model X didn’t have.”
Is it really an end to range anxiety?
In proclaiming an end to range anxiety, we can’t help but wonder if Tesla Motors is challenging someone, somewhere to prove them wrong. But if we had to guess, we’d also suggest that Tesla is likely to keep close tabs on those who eagerly click past range warnings on long road trips, just as it already has with those who continuously drive their cars in range mode to near-empty.
If it works however, Tesla may well have found a software solution to a hardware problem that’s been plaguing electric cars for decades. Sadly, only time will tell if that’s really the case.
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