Tesla vehicles will soon be getting the next-gen equivalent of a fuel warning light.
In an upcoming software upgrade, electric cars from Elon Musk's company will be able to predict when they'll run out of battery — and will direct drivers to the most convenient recharging stations.
"It's going to look at the availability of chargers and definitely favor a Supercharger over a wall connector or destination charger," said Musk on a conference call Thursday. "Unless, of course, it happens to be at your destination."
The goal of the add-on will be to end "range anxiety," or the concern about how far an electric vehicle can realistically travel in a world where recharging stations are still relatively rare compared to gas stations.
It'll take into account things like air conditioning use, climbing hills, or even a "16-knot headwind" in generating range estimates.
"When we factor those in and gather real-time data from the Internet, the accuracy is incredibly good," said Musk. "Down to the one-percent level."
While this is good news for owners of Tesla's Model S, it signals something else about the future of automotive technology. And that's the way in which this update is being delivered.
We now live in a universe where major features in a vehicle can be added and updated on-the-fly by a car company. Musk said that, moving forward, he hopes to issue new software updates every three to four months over the cars' 3G and LTE connections — data services whose cost will be covered by Tesla into the foreseeable future. Some of the changes coming down the pipe? An overhaul to the driver's user interface and the company's auto-steering feature.
The self-driving mode is "technically" capable of completing a full trip on its own, with no human intervention.
"We could have it navigate an underground maze in the dark, just using the ultrasonic [sensors]," said Musk.
But when it first gets rolled out, he added, drivers will be limited to enabling the feature on highways. The company's also exploring ways to notify drivers who've stopped paying attention — you won't be able to set and forget the autopilot.
"One way to do it is to detect torque on the steering wheel," said Musk. "If no force has been on the wheel for some time, we might issue a visual and auditory alert to make sure you're okay."