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Teslas for the robotaxi fleet: With every update, owners feel like they got a new car – USA TODAY

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That’s because Tesla has created “the best chip in the world.”
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Imagine if your car could get new features or even become faster or get to farther on a fill-up just while sitting parked outside.  

To the delight of Tesla owners everywhere, the electric car company continually offers over-the-air software updates to the cars they already have, making it feel as if they are walking out to a brand new vehicle, instead of having to wait a year or so for a new, improved model.

And now, CEO Elon Musk is talking about creating a fleet of Uber-like “robotaxis” with just such an upgrade. 

In March, with the introduction of the base $35,000 Model 3, a Tesla update made all existing Model 3s faster, practically overnight. 

This month, the Palo Alto-based company began rolling out its latest version of Navigate on Autopilot, which steers and navigates the car and negotiates traffic along a given path. This update gives drivers the option to allow their car to make lane changes on its own, without their having to confirm the suggestion. Prior to the update, drivers had to tap gear shift stalk to accept the lane-change suggestion before the car would shift lanes.

Once the feature is toggled, whenever on the highway with a location plugged into the navigation bar, drivers can receive both visual and audio prompts that the car is about to switch lanes by itself. 

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Drivers of cars built after August 2017 have the option of being notified through steering wheel vibrations.

If you don’t want to switch lanes, you can cancel the move by pressing the notification pop-up on the touchscreen or using the turn signal. No, this isn’t a chance for you to take a nap while your car takes you to your destination. The autopiloting features work only if your hands are on the wheel.

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The new settings are available to customers who have purchased Full Self-Driving Capability, which was previously called Enhanced Autopilot, installed via an over-the-air software update. 

Navigate on Autopilot joins a long list of useful driving modes that have been released over the years as the electric automaker heads toward fully autonomous driving, which CEO Elon Musk promised by the end of this year at an investor event on Monday.  

Handy driving modes and software updates:

Summon: Tesla began rolling out an Autopilot feature called “Enhanced Summon” in 2019 to members of its early access program. It enables a Tesla vehicle to drive itself to the owner, say, in parking lots as long as the owner holds a finger on the button on their smartphone screen via the Tesla app. Currently, Summon allows you to navigate the car forward and backward slightly and slowly while touching the app screen from nearby. 

Stop Light Warning: This software update gives drivers a visual and audible warning signal when they are about to blow through a red light. This feature won’t apply the car’s brakes.

Tesla’s goal is to put a dent in the number of fatal traffic accidents that occur each year.

Remote Heating: In December, Tesla released a new mobile app update that lets owners remotely activate their heated seat and steering wheel as well as schedule a service appointment.

Track Mode: In November 2018, Telsa rolled out the update that lets drivers take better control of their vehicles. The update included optimized cooling, more powerful braking and the ability to drift Model 3 Performance cars.

Ludicrous Acceleration Mode: This is the feature that enables a Model S sedan to go from 0 to 60 mph in under three seconds, which is faster than some Ferraris and Lamborghinis.

Cold Weather: Some Model 3 owners complained in 2018 that cold weather made the door handles hard to pop out. Doors on the Model 3 are frameless so windows have to move slightly in order for the door to open. To correct this, Tesla pushed a software update in November. 

Navigate on Autopilot: This feature guides a car from a highway’s on-ramp to off-ramp. It’s designed to make finding and following the most efficient path to your destination even easier on the highway. 

However, self-driving technology came under scrutiny in early 2018 after an Uber car in self-driving mode struck and killed a woman crossing a street in Tempe, Arizona.

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Obstacle-Aware Acceleration: This update automatically limits your car’s acceleration if an obstacle is detected in front of your vehicle while driving at low speeds.

Valet Mode: This mode restricts access to your vehicle when handing it over to valet – hiding all personal data from your touchscreen, limiting maximum speed and performance your Tesla can achieve and locking your front trunk and glove compartment to safely conceal valuables.

Software Version 9.0: This software update made Model S, Model X, and Model 3 smarter. Tesla introduced a refined and simplified user interface, along with entirely new features for the trio.

Dashcam: This feature lets you record and store on a USB drive the video footage captured by your car’s side cameras in addition to the narrow forward camera. 

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Sentry Mode: This security feature began rolling out in 2019 and adds a unique layer of protection to Tesla vehicles by continuously monitoring the environment around a car when it’s left unattended. You can set Sentry Mode before you leave the car or remotely from the app, and the car starts to record when someone or something gets too close. In Tesla fan groups, owners love to share video of close calls, lurking admirers and scared-off creepers. If the car shifts from the neutral standby state to its alarm state, the car alarm is activated, the center display gets bright and music plays at maximum volume from the car’s audio system. Owners get an alert and can download video of the incident, if they have a USB drive set up.

Chill Mode: Moving away from the ever-increasing acceleration boosts, Telsa introduced Chill in 2017. It makes acceleration more gradual – “ideal for smoother driving and a gentler ride for your passengers,” according to Tesla. 

Dog Mode: No need for a well-meaning (or harshly worded) note on the hood, good samaritans, or to bust open the windows and dial 911. This feature, launched in 2019, is a fan favorite,designed to keep the car cabin at a comfortable temperature. It also displays the in-car temperature, an animated pooch and a message on the touchscreen so passersby will know a pet left inside is safe and sound.

Cheeky software updates and Easter Eggs

Along with periodic software updates, Tesla tosses in a hidden gem or two, often referred to as “Easter eggs.”

These updates are sometimes discovered randomly by Tesla drivers. Other times, the company’s CEO, Elon Musk, drops not so subtle hints on Twitter of what’s to come. 

“You have to love Tesla’s sense of humor,” said Elaine Borseth who drives a Tesla Model S.

“They’ve added Santa Mode around the holidays that turns your car into Santa’s sleigh on the navigation. Oh, and there’s the farting mode. They have all kinds of fun things that just make you smile.”

Borseth, who’s the vice president of the Electric Vehicle Association of San Diego, said that the over-the-air updates are the most exciting part of being a Tesla owner.

“It’s just great to be able to have a car that’s four years old, as mine is now, and have all the features of a new car,” Borseth said. “You get a notification. You go out to your car and you have new features.”

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Back to the Future: In February 2019, the company’s mobile app got an update that allowed users to see a load of cheeky references to the famed film franchise. For example, the vehicle displayed on the app will turn into a Model X with its Falcon Wing doors opened – referencing Doc Brown’s DeLorean.

Romance Mode: Video of a fire crackling in a fireplace starts to play on the car’s center screen along with sensual music. This mode also turns on the car seat heaters. For obvious safety reasons, it works only when the car is in park.

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TeslATARI: Released in October 2018, this update included an emulator of classic 1980s games that are controlled either through the steering wheel or through the vehicles’ center touchscreens. And, no, Centipede hasn’t gotten any easier over time.

Fart Mode: A favorite among many younger Tesla passengers, this one’s also known as Emissions Testing Mode. This feature includes a drop-down menu of, well, human emission sound options in all Tesla cars. You can also position the sound to come from any of the four corners of the cabin. So far, it’s an odor-free and addictive experience. 

Santa Mode: This update gave Model S and Model X vehicle owners a reindeer icon within Tesla’s Easter Egg Menu around the holidays in 2017. Pressing the reindeer icon summoned Jolly Old St. Nick. Your turn signal sound becomes jingling bells. As Musk tweeted, this feature can also be triggered by saying “Ho, ho, ho.” 

Holiday Show: In Dec. 2016, Model X owners received the “Holiday Show” update which delivered a synchronized light show with Falcon Wing doors. The update also added an overlay to the navigation that will make it look like you’re driving on the surface of Mars.

Fun Fact: The idea of Easter eggs started off with video games in the 1970s with the Atari 2600 in the game Adventure. It was a way for game designers to add a special fun touch that rewarded players for playing the game for leisure and not just to win. Tesla CEO Elon Musk is an avid video gamer.

Follow Dalvin Brown on Twitter: @Dalvin Brown

 

 

 

 

 

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