Tesla makes it 'impossible' to accidentally run out of juice

The electric-car maker's next software update for its vehicles will warn drivers when they get too far from charging stations.

An update to the software in Tesla's Model S sedan will add a warning system meant to prevent drivers from straying too far from a charging station.Photo by Josh Miller/CNET

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk followed through Thursday with his promise to address so-called -- or the feeling that your electric vehicle will run out of power -- in the company's next over-the-air software update.

Following his cryptic tweet Sunday, Musk said Tesla's version 6.2 software, which the company will release later this month to all Tesla Model S sedans now on the road, won't actually improve the vehicle's range. Instead, it will "give drivers peace of mind," Musk said during a press conference this morning.

The new Range Assurance feature will constantly monitor how far away you are from a Tesla supercharger station, disregarding chargers that are already in heavy use. When drivers run the risk of losing power if they stay on their present route, the system will warn them and ask if they want to continue.

"You'll have to say, 'Yes, I'm sure' -- twice," Musk said. "It will be impossible to run out of charge unless you do so intentionally."

Addressing range worries is one of the largest hurdles to more widespread adoption of electric cars. Tesla has gone to great lengths to make the experience of going gas-free as easy as possible. The company has built its own network of 403 Supercharger stations, with more than 2,200 Superchargers, and it's also testing battery swap stations in California, giving drivers the option of a 30-minute recharge or a complete battery exchange taking less than 3 minutes.

Tesla has in the past sent software updates to existing Model S cars over the vehicle's cellular data connection. The previous updates added functions like traffic-aware cruise control, camera-enabled headlights and so-called Creep mode, which helps the Model S act more like traditional automatic-transmission cars while in traffic.

Musk laid out why Tesla is able to do this when other carmakers can't.

"We've designed the Model S to be basically a computer on wheels," Musk said. He considers Tesla a hardware company to some degree, but thinks of Tesla as a Silicon Valley software company.

"We view it in the same way you view updating your phone and your laptop," Musk added. "Just as people have taken it to be normal to assume your phone and laptop keep improving, that's what we're doing with the Model S."

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