Tesla Reveals Trip Tools: Do They Quash Electric-Car Range Anxiety?

March 19, 2015

Tesla Motors and its CEO Elon Musk already have what might be the best solution for so-called “range anxiety.” The all-electric Tesla Model S already has the longest range of any all-electric model on the market—of 270 miles, in its high-performance P85D form.

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But even with that sort of range, owners can make miscalculations now and then, and so as part of sweeping vehicle-software update, the California automaker has added two features to the navigation system, both aimed to reduce the stress of potentially not making the next charger.

Range Assurance is a system that “does the thinking for you,” the automaker says. It monitors when you might be at risk for driving beyond the range of charging locations, and then triggers a warning that includes a list of Superchargers or other available chargers. Drivers can then select one of those chargers as their destination.

Tesla claims that 90 percent of the U.S. populatioin is within 175 miles of a Supercharger, and that 96 percent of the population is near either a Supercharger or a ‘destination charger.’  In North America there are currently 192 Supercharger sites, with a total of 1,201 connectors.

An end to range anxiety, or simply some mishaps averted?

Although the rollout might not quite be an empirical answer to a recent promise made by Musk to “end range anxiety,” it’s a system that will undoubtedly prevent some mishaps and reduce stress.

It’s similar to the features that we’ve experienced on some other electric cars already—like the Kia Soul EV—only with the Tesla system it goes a step further to actively break in and point out that you’re leaving the realistic driving range.

Tesla Model S - Trip Planner feature

Tesla Model S - Trip Planner feature

Separately, there’s a new Trip Planner, which will select a route that minimizes not only driving time but also charging time. Through the iPhone app and push notifications, the system will notify you when you’ve charged enough to continue on.

The Tesla tools will also take things like terrain, typical travel speed, and even typical wind speed into account when it guides you to the best route.

Those two features are part of a new version 6.2 update for its vehicle software, which also includes two new Driver Assistance features: Automatic Emergency Braking, which will automatically apply the brakes “to reduce the impact of an unavoidable frontal collision,” and a new Blind Spot Warning system that works between 20 and 85 mph to detect vehicles in the blind spot. Through an instrument cluster arc, the shows that a vehicle is present alongside; a change in color from white to red accompanied by a steering-wheel vibration serve to warn the driver of a potential collision.

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P85D now goes 155 mph

2014 Tesla Model S 'P85D' all-wheel-drive model

2014 Tesla Model S 'P85D' all-wheel-drive model

Additionally, Tesla has wrapped in a new Valet Mode for the Model S, and the high-performance, all-wheel drive P85D now has had its electronically limited top speed raised to 155 mph.

That’s only the latest in a couple of major software updates that were served to cars in September and January. Tesla also provided an update on some recently released active-safety features in its vehicles. In September, as part of its 6.0 update, the Model S got traffic-based navigation that has re-routing and takes real-time traffic into account. It also included location-based data for the air suspension system and its ride height, as well as a calendar app. Then in January, as part of the 6.1 update, the Model S got forward collision warning, a traffic-aware cruise control system, and an Auto High Beam feature for the headlamps.

More safety updates on the way

The update will be rolled out to cars soon. All Model S models now come with a suite of Autopilot hardware that includes 12 ultrasonic sensors, forward radar, a forward camera, and an electric assist braking system. The Model S is updated remotely, through its vehicle software, and while some updates apply to all cars on the road, other upcomng features will apply only to models with this hardware.

Musk also promised an update in a few months that will bring an Auto-Steer feature—like lane-keep assist but perhaps with less of a requirement for periodically putting your hands back on the steering wheel—plus a full version of adaptive cruise control, and eventually, a feature that allows the car to park itself.

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