Tesla just finished holding a press event, where it announced new software updates that will affect the entire Model S fleet.
Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of Tesla, is his own PR company. Whenever he tweets, it makes headlines. He recently made news with a tweet, for instance, which announced his company will roll out an over-the-air software update for its Model S sedan. The firmware, which debuted at Tesla's 19 March press event, will "end range anxiety". Musk's tweet was re-tweeted and favourited thousands of times.
The software update was rumoured to bring a number of things, such as an adjustment to the Model S' low battery warning system, a range increase for the Model S, or even a more efficient way to juice up at Level 2 charges, but at the end of the day, it did two specific things. If you're wondering what that software update did to the entire Model S fleet, we've laid out everything you need to know.
We've also included news about a secondary software update that will add auto-steering in just three months. Seriously.
What is Tesla?
Tesla is technically referred to as Tesla Motors. It is a US-based public company that makes and sells electric cars, with its first vehicle being the Tesla Roadster all-electric sports car, followed by the Model S sedan and other models.
When was Tesla's press event?
Tesla held its relatively low-key press event on 19 March at 9am EST. We're not sure yet if was live streamed, but keeping check back, as we'll update this story with any published videos from the event.
What did Musk mean by "end range anxiety"?
Range anxiety occurs whenever consumers worry that they won't be able to find a car charger before their electric vehicle runs out of power. It's something that has overshadowed the EV industry for years, and it's something Musk wants to end. The Model S has about a 200-mile range, depending on configuration, and everyone knows that hooking it up to a Supercharger isn't as fast or convenient as filling up at a tank.
Thus, in an attempt to make the entire Model S fleet appear more attractive to consumers who haven't yet made the switch from fuel-powered cars to electric, Musk teased his company will eliminate some of the tediousness associated with buying a Tesla. It will end range anxiety.
How did Tesla ultimately end range anxiety?
While at Tesla's press event on 19 March, Musk revealed just how Tesla plans to end range anxiety, something long thought to be preventing consumers from purchasing a Model S. It's a perceived issue that plagues the EV industry, as we've noted before, but Tesla is working to change that with a two-part plan. The first part involves a new software update that will bring a Range Assurance app.
The app, which will constantly run in the background, will stay in touch with Tesla's wide network of Superchargers and destination chargers, with the purpose of alerting you in real time when nearby chargers are in heavy use and when you've gone too far out of charger range: "This makes it effectively impossible for a Model S driver to run out of range unintentionally," Musk explained to journalists at the event.
The second part of Tesla's plan, also packaged in the same software update, will add a Trip Planner. It'll communicate with Tesla's fleet and its chargers in order to plot routes along Tesla's charger network, thus diminishing any anxiety a driver might have about finding chargers during long-distance trips. Musk also stressed that Supercharger locations are rapidly growing, so range anxiety shouldn't be a concern anyway.
The new software update, which is version 6.2 of the Model S firmware, will launch within two weeks, according to Tesla.
Will the software update also enable auto-steering?
It's well known that Tesla Motors has more than just electric vehicles on its product roadmap: it's also working on a self-driving car. Musk admitted last autumn that Tesla has already developed a mostly-autonomous car, and it will release in 2015. The car reportedly features an autopilot system reliant upon a combination of various sensors, cameras, image recognition with radar, and long-range ultrasonics.
But in a surprise move, Tesla also announced a second software update to the Model S fleet that will include auto-steering. Musk said on Thursday that drivers can "basically go between San Francisco and Seattle" without having to do anything. The update, which should be ready in "about three months", will allow drivers to forget about having to control their car's steering wheel, acceleration, or braking when on a highway.
Musk specifically said auto-steering can only be enabled on highways, though it is technically capable of allowing the Model S to go from parking lot to parking lot. Musk stressed that Tesla won't yet allow that aspect of autopilot with this "hardware suite", because the car maker doesn't think it'll be safe in suburban neighborhoods. The Model S needs a bigger sensor suite and more computing power first.
Musk also noted that auto-steering still remains illegal on most US roads, so drivers will be limited to using the upcoming feature on private property, even though it's meant to work on highways and can even be used in parking lots, etc.
Was anything else announced at Tesla's event?
Tesla said it's working on technology that will allow Model S drivers to summon their unmanned car to their location. They'll also be able to make the car drive itself into a garage. Amazing.
What about all those rumours?
We already knew Tesla planned to end range anxiety with a simple software update (which meant those of you who own a Model S wouldn't have to get new batteries or a more efficient motor; you'd just have to accept new firmware from the company), but plenty of rumours still swirled about, with at least one claiming Tesla planned to end range range anxiety by delivering a range boost of some sort.
Some reports speculated, for instance, Tesla's firmware would add an emergency reserve of sorts that could save extra miles for you. The idea is that you'd only use the miles when necessary. Such a feature would give you a sense of security, as you'll know that - no matter what - you can always tap into an emergency supply of power in order to get to a nearby charger or somewhere safe before you run out of juice.
The firmware was also heavily rumoured to include an auto-calculating feature similar to what was unveiled. Reports speculated it might figure available range and warn you via an instrument cluster that you need to start looking for chargers. The Model S could already map out Superchargers, but a more streamlined approach coupled with alerts that tell you to find a charger 100 miles in advance could diminish anxiety.
If none of the above theories sat well with you, there was always the possibility that Tesla would fully embrace Level 2 chargers and make charging from them more efficient. The Supercharger network is a wide-spread system of connectors that claim to charge a Model S in "minutes instead of hours, but there are far more Level 2 charging stations at special electric-vehicle parking spots in garages and other facilities.
Level 2 chargers may be more common, but they're also slower and cost money based on amount of time or per amount of electricity. Some are completely free, but most are run by a charging system network, such as ChargePoint or SemaConnect, and you need an account with the charging network to use the station. It was thought that Tesla devised a way for the Model S to charge a bit faster from Level 2 charging stations.
How does the Tesla Model S receive software updates?
The Model S regularly receives over-the-air software updates. When an update is available, you’ll get a notification on the car's center display with options to install immediately or schedule for later. Tesla said the average software update takes 45 minutes to complete over your home’s Wi-Fi network. You can read more about the last Model S software update, called 6.1, here.
Want to know more?
Check out our Tesla hub on Thursday, as we plan to cover Tesla's announcements as they break.