Tesla To Cure Range Anxiety? I Think I Know How (Update)

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Update 19 March: I pretty much nailed it. One feature I didn’t mention (but should have) was that we also used to have real time information on which Battery Switch stations were working. Tesla cars will now have real time information on the status of nearby Super Chargers. They also get a routing system that can send them via appropriate chargers (as I described) and warns them if they plan an out of range trip. More details here. Embedded at the end of this post is the complete audio from the conference call.

https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/577100755427061760

Elon Musk tweeted out yesterday that he’s going to fix the perennial electric car problem of “range anxiety” on Thursday for all of his Model S cars already made by sending them some software.

Speculation is running rife across the tech and news sites but I’m pretty sure I know what he’s done. He will not introduce battery swapping like we had with our Better Place cars in Israel, that (for Tesla) was always about holding onto some more government hand outs. While changing the software in the car may make a marginal difference in range (a few percent at most) that doesn’t cure range anxiety.

Range anxiety does not come from the car having a limited range: it comes from not being sure, in advance, if you can make a certain journey. The best any other electric car does today is give you an estimate of how many more kilometres or miles you can travel. And that doesn’t take into account going up or down hills or road speed both of which make a huge difference. So much so that these devices are called “guess-o-meters” because they’re practically useless.

What he’s going to show on Thursday is accurate state of charge prediction at destination and (maybe) the inclusion of a feature to find and use Tesla’s fast growing network of fast chargers to make an impossible journey possible.

That’s basically what we had three years ago in our Better Place cars with battery switch. We could put into the GPS navigator any destination in Israel and be told what % our battery would be when we got there. This number changed dynamically as we drove getting increasingly more accurate as we approached the destination. We could also program in multiple stops or, say, a there and home journey to see if we could make it.

If it was beyond the range of our battery, the software would tell us where to stop and get a new battery along the way.

The system takes into account ambient temperature, your driving style and topography (meaning hills) because going up a hill uses more energy than going down. In fact going down can recover so much energy that on a trip to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, you may use 80% of your batter to get there but only 50% to get back. All these things affect the amount of charge used to make a journey.

Back in better days I filmed this video to show how the system worked. Be aware that move of this still works in my car today, it’s just I can’t stop and switch batteries anywhere. I can still program in multiple destinations and get a reasonable estimate of whether I can make the trip or not. Here’s one of my earliest blog posts: Electric Vehicle Range Anxiety Solved (before I even received the car) and below is a video I made of the system automatically creating a route from Tel Aviv to Eilat. If you don’t know what a battery switch looks like, I filmed that from the driver’s seat.

Making predictions can be a fools game. I don’t do it very often so I’m sticking my neck out here making one!

However, when it comes to computer simulation of an electric car driving on known roads over known topology, that is a problem that can be solved and Better Place proved that more than three years ago and it really does massively reduce range anxiety. Instead of routing via battery switch, he’ll be able to route Tesla customers via their now impressive network of fast chargers (called Super Chargers) that can increase a battery to 80% in the time it takes to eat a burger. Good enough for most practical purposes.

I do hope I’m right, and I do hope that one day Tesla will be seen on the roads in Israel.

Update 22 March 2015: Here is the complete conference call announcement.

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