Tesla’s Model S will use live interaction with the charging network to warn its driver if they’re about to run out of range, as part of a string of updates announced today by the company’s boss Elon Musk.
The software update - version 6.2 of the Model S’s system - will bring what Tesla is calling the Range Assurance Application. It runs even when the navigation is not in use, and checks Tesla’s own Superchargers and 'Destination chargers' (third-party sites at golf clubs, hotels and public areas) every 30 seconds. This, Musk claims, will allow the Model S to alert the driver if any potential charger is out of use, warn them if they’re about to run out of sufficient range to get to an alternative, and navigate them to an available, working charger. “It’s basically going to be impossible to run out of range unless you do so intentionally,” Musk said during the launch press conference. “The car will check that you want to go ahead with what you’re doing. You’ll need to say yes, twice.”
The connectivity to the charging network will also assist a trip planner, which will navigate you to your destination factoring in the charging locations on route. “Think of it as a big network of cars communicating dynamically with a big network of chargers,” said Musk. “We haven’t seen that before.”
Tesla hopes the new apps will help to further break down range anxiety among non-EV owners. Musk said, "We actually don't think many people with a Model S suffer from range anxiety, but this is helpful for the people who don't drive a Model S. It could put their mind at ease."
The update - which is scheduled to be installed via every Model S’s built-in 3G connectivity within the next couple of weeks - also introduces emergency city braking and blind spot warning to the car's safety systems.
Today’s conference fell short of some predictions - fuelled by Musk’s Twitter tease that he was going to ‘end range anxiety’, and leaked patent applications - that Tesla was preparing a software-based update to the Model S’s electric inverter that could actually have increased the physical range.
However, Musk did offer some hints at what the next major update - version 7.0 - will deliver when it arrives later this year. It will introduce a user interface overhaul on the Model S’s enormous dashboard screen and, more notably, bring the car closer to full autonomous driving. Musk revealed that a prototype Model S has been driving from San Francisco to Seattle “with the driver hardly touching the controls at all” - although he admitted that while the system could in theory work in towns, it will only be available on highways and private land. That second function will also allow the user to ‘summon’ their car via mobile phone, or send it off to the garage to park itself.