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Tesla Model S avoids traffic with new software update

Traffic avoidance features and calendar integration are among the goodies in an over-the-air software update pushed out by Tesla.

Tesla Model S main LCD
Tesla announced Version 6.0 of its Model S software, which gives the cars new traffic avoidance features. Josh Miller/CNET

Affirming its kinship with Silicon Valley technology companies, automaker Tesla has announced a new software update to be for its luxury five-door electric Model S . Delivered via the car's built-in 3G data connection, owners will wake up to new features in their cars. The new features largely put the Model S on par with competitors, however, rather than leap it ahead.

The update, designated Version 6.0 by Tesla, was announced last week and will be seamlessly downloaded to the always-connected cars and installed without any necessary intervention by owners.

The biggest new feature will be the inclusion of live traffic data integrated with the Model S' navigation system. After the driver enters a destination, the car can compute a route that avoids major traffic obstructions. Likewise, the cars will learn the owner's daily commute, and can warn of traffic problems before leaving the garage.

Almost every new car with a navigation system incorporates the former feature, although the commute warning is a new wrinkle on live traffic. And unlike current production cars, which receive traffic data over a satellite radio connection or an FM radio band, the Model S will be receiving its traffic data over the 3G connection. Further, each car will serve as a traffic probe, adding its data to traffic flow information.

A feature leaked earlier will let Model S owners leave their car-shaped key fobs behind, instead turning on the cars with their phones. To use this feature, you'll need to have the Tesla Model S app installed on your phone. (That app is available for iPhone and currently listed as a beta for Android.) Mitigating the everyday usefulness of this feature, you'll need to enter your password in the app every time you want to turn on the car.

Another new feature integrates your calendars, via your phone, with the car. Appointments will appear on the car's LCD. For entries with locations, you'll be able to set them as destinations in the navigation system -- BMW has created similar integration with its Connected app.

Other new features let you name your car and automatically raise the air suspension for bumps or ridges. This latter feature records locations where the driver repeatedly raises the suspension, such as a steep driveway entrance, then automatically raises the suspension whenever it's driven in that location.