Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk announced Thursday a two-fold solution to electric car range anxiety, which is coming in the next software update for its leading Model S sedan.
After teasing on Twitter a forthcoming solution to the number one criticism of electric cars earlier this week, Musk held a press conference with reporters Thursday to drop the details, which include two new systems dubbed “Range Assurance” and “Trip Planner.”
Range Assurance is a forthcoming update to the Model S navigation system that runs passively in the background and communicates in real-time with Tesla’s network of Supercharger stations and parking chargers, updating drivers about the range and proximity en route to their destination.
The systems disregards chargers in use to give drivers a constant accurate prediction of available chargers, and takes into account driving style, elevation and even windspeed to constantly calculate the current charge’s range.
“It will be basically impossible to run out of charge unless you do so intentionally,” Musk said, adding that you’ll have to respond to the car’s warnings with an “OK” twice before you can drain the battery.
The second navigational update, Trip Planner, displays the best charging options en route to an inputed final destination, calculates the fastest route and takes into account how long a charge will take at any given location.
Musk added that Supercharger time requirements will match predicable, convenient 20-30 minute rest stops most drivers take for any long trip, “unless you want to wear a diaper.”
The improvements will be included in an over-the-air software update to version 6.2.
Musk also gave a preview of what to expect from software updates down the road closer to version 7, which will include automatic steering, remote summoning and a “Valet Mode.”
“We’re now almost able to travel from San Francisco to Seattle with the driver barely touching the wheel at all,” Musk said of the automatic steering system, which he hopes will come “within three months.”
Another update will let Model S owners summon their car remotely, though only on private property, as the system is “not legal.” Users can have their car pick them up at the front door or park itself in the garage after a drop off.
Lastly, the forthcoming Valet Mode will limit the speed and torque available and lock personal information.
In answer to a question about developing battery packs with a longer range, Musk said Tesla was already capable of building 500-mile range packs, but that the added range was unnecessary and the weight ratio too inefficient.
“The marginal utility of going from 300 to 500 miles is pretty low, and then you’ve got all the cost and weight of that battery pack,” Musk explained. “There’s a sweet spot around the 250-350 mile range, that’s really ideal.”
One of the key takeaways Musk repeated was that with Tesla, cars can now be constantly updated to improve their performance over time, much like smartphones and computers.
“We designed the Model S to be a sophisticated computer on wheels,” Musk said. “Tesla is a software company as much as it is a hardware company. That’s a huge part of what Tesla is.”
“It’s the same way you’re updating your phone or laptop — people have come to take it to be normal that your phone and laptop will keep improving. That’s the approach we’ve taken with the Model S.”