Tesla software updates bring battery smarts, self-driving and robo-valet

Elon Musk says new software "makes it almost impossible to run out of battery, unless you want to"

Space-piercing Silicon Valley technolord Elon Musk announced today that while owners of his swanky Model S electric sedan sleep, he will be quietly improving their motor with over-the-air updates. 

“Most cars don’t improve over time,” said Musk, clearly unaware that the Vauxhall Astra 1.4 develops like a fine wine, “but the Model S improves while you sleep. With version 6.2 of the Model S software, we’re introducing Range Assurance; this is always running quietly in the background, even when navigation is not in use, and it will warn you if you drive out of range of the Tesla charging network.

"The navigation system shows you a map of the nearest chargers, factoring in things like elevation, weather and wind speed. The system makes it almost impossible for a Tesla driver to run out of battery unintentionally. The car will actually ask you twice before you go beyond range of the network."

This nifty nav is paired with a Trip Planner that integrates charging points into your route, calculating where and when you need to stop and re-routing you automatically if a Supercharger becomes busy.  "You’ve got a network of intelligent charging stations and intelligent cars communicating together," said Musk, "and that’s never been done before". 

Less visibly, the Model S' accelerator response has been subtly tweaked, and all cars now have emergency braking and side and rear collision warning. 

More to come

It sounds like the really fun stuff will come in version 7.0, though. "It will have a UI overhaul," said Musk, "and it will include automatic steering. In our tests we have been able to drive almost all the way from San Francisco to Seattle" - a journey of over 1290km - "without the driver touching any controls at all."   

Not only that, but Model S owners will soon be able to summon the car from their garage using an app, and when they return to their techno-ranch they'll be able to get out at the front door and leave the car to drive itself into the garage, closing the garage door behind it.

This is achieved using the car's current sensors, with no extra hardware - Musk told us the Model S "can navigate through a maze, in the dark, just using its ultrasound sensors", which will be handy if you have a really confusing underground garage.

a computer on wheels

As upgrades go, refining your software and adding new abilities has a little more finesse than blacking out your windows with plastic and adding a Bass Cannon to your boot, and Musk clearly hopes that will give his cars a more lasting appeal for wealthy geeks. 

"We designed the Model S to be a very sophisticated computer on wheels," he told us. "We wanted to make updating it as simple as updating your phone or your laptop."