Tesla Model S Adds 'Creep' Feature 'Over the Air'
With easy software upgrades, Tesla brings future of automotive infotainment to the present.
The all-electric Tesla Model S boasts technology that can be found only on a pricey, limited-production car: a 17-inch center console touch screen that features satellite navigation mapping and built-in high-speed wireless Internet access, for example. That this connectivity can also be used to download a new feature to the car isn’t a big deal, but the way Tesla adds it is -- and it points the way for upgrading vehicle electronics in the future.
The feature is called "creep," which is automotive-speak for when a traditional car with an automatic transmission slowly moves forward when the brake pedal is released. By default, the Model S doesn't do this to save battery power, but Tesla says that "some early customers miss it." So if Model S owners want to add creeping to their car, they can do it by simply using the 17-inch touch screen to download a software update.
Tesla says that owners can install the update themselves or "schedule it to install at night" while they're asleep. This is done with electronics ranging from smartphones to videogame consoles, and that's how it should be for cars.
Problem is, when a car leaves the factory its infotainment software typically is frozen in time. That's starting to change, and several automakers now offer manual software updates using a car's USB port, such as Ford with its Sync system. And the Apps feature of Mercedes-Benz’s mbrace2 telematics system can also be updated over the air without driver involvement.
The good news is that more automakers are now offering telematics systems that have an embedded cellular modem that allows two-way communication with the car. The bad news is not enough are providing easy, over-the-air software updates that could add features such as creep and, more importantly, keep infotainment systems current and compatible with the latest portable electronics.
Maybe they’ll follow Tesla's lead. Eventually, they'll have to if they don’t want their cars to become technically antiquated.
Actually, traditional automakers would find it extremely difficult to "add a feature such as creep" because creep is a consequence of having an automatic transmission. Fundamentally the drivetrain on ICE vehicles is extremely constrained by the mechanics of the system while an EV like the Model S can change a wide range of behaviors digitally.
An example of this happened during the Get Amped test drives when the first week saw customers racing the Model S around at 120+ mph on city streets. Tesla modified a bit of software and the next week the test vehicles were limited to 80mph. A similar modification could reduce the amount of acceleration available to increase efficiency or to limit a teenager who is borrowing the car.
These are things that would be more difficult with an ICE. An over air modification to add a speed limiter would be possible, but modifying the power band of the engine would probably screw up how it interacts with the transmission (which has mechanical gear ratios) and make it difficult to optimize.
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