Tesla Remotely Extended The Range Of Drivers In Florida For Free... And That's NOT A Good Thing

from the think-about-the-implications dept

In the lead up to Hurricane Irma hitting Florida over the weekend, Tesla did something kind of interesting: it gave a "free" upgrade to a bunch of Tesla drivers in Florida, extending the range of those vehicles, to make it easier for them to evacuate the state. Now, as an initial response, this may seem praiseworthy. The company did something (at no cost to car-owners) to help them evacuate from a serious danger zone. In a complete vacuum, that sounds like a good idea. But there are a variety of problems with it when put back into context.

The first thing you need to understand is that while Tesla sells different version of its Model S, with different ranges, the range is actually entirely software-dependent. That is, it uses the same batteries in different cars -- it just limits how much they'll charge via software. Thus, spend more on a "nicer" model and more of the battery is used. So all that happened here was that Tesla "upgraded" these cars with an over the air update. In some ways, this feels kind of neat -- it means that a Tesla owner could "purchase" an upgrade to extend the range of the car. But it should also be somewhat terrifying.

In some areas, this has lead to discussions about the possibility of hacking the software on the cheaper version to unlock the greater battery power -- and I, for one, can't wait to see the CFAA lawsuit that eventually comes out of that should it ever happen (at least some people are hacking into the Tesla's battery management system, but just to determine how much capacity is really available).

But this brings us back to the same old discussion of whether or not you really own what you've bought. When a company can automagically update the physical product you bought from them, it at least raises some serious questions. Yes, in this case, it's being used for a good purpose: to hopefully make it easier for Tesla owners to get the hell out of Florida. But it works the other way too, as law professor Elizabeth Jo points out:

And, of course, there's the possibility that one of these over-the-air updates goes wrong in disastrous ways:

So, yes, without any context, merely upgrading the cars' range sure sounds like a good thing. But when you begin to think about it in the context of who actually owns the car you bought, it gets a lot scarier.


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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 11 Sep 2017 @ 11:55am

    I was wondering why Tesla would limit battery capacity via software. I thought it was for security reasons or to ensure the driver could squeeze some extra juice when in a pinch but this is downright terrifying just as the article said. Tesla lost a bunch of goodwill from me with this one.

    I'm also terrified of over-the-air updates. What prevents anybody from performing a MITM attack and screwing your car? No seriously, firmware updates should be wired for any device.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2017 @ 2:14pm

      Re:

      What prevents anybody from performing a MITM attack and screwing your car?

      The cryptographic parts of that are really easy, though of course people get it wrong in interesting ways (PDF) and you don't want buffer overflows etc. in the parts preceding the signature check.

      I'm not so worried about MITM. I'm more worried that Tesla has remote access to everyone's cars. Given what just happened with Equifax, are we sure that only Tesla will ever have that access?

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    • identicon
      Rocky, 11 Sep 2017 @ 3:25pm

      Re: Limiting battery capacity

      I would say that all electric cars that uses modern batteries limits the capacity and there is a very good reason for limiting the battery capacity you can use.

      The reason is that the batteries aging is affected by how deep you discharge the battery - and the battery is supposed to work throughout the cars life without being replaced.

      If you for example repeatedly discharge Lithium batteries 100% you get about ~300 cycles, if you only discharge 40% got get ~1400 cycles - which translates to almost 3x longer battery-life.

      And I'm a bit flabbergasted that everyone has their panties in a twist that Tesla does OtA updates, they have been doing that since day 1.

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      • identicon
        Rekrul, 11 Sep 2017 @ 7:26pm

        Re: Re: Limiting battery capacity

        **The reason is that the batteries aging is affected by how deep you discharge the battery - and the battery is supposed to work throughout the cars life without being replaced.

        If you for example repeatedly discharge Lithium batteries 100% you get about ~300 cycles, if you only discharge 40% got get ~1400 cycles - which translates to almost 3x longer battery-life.**

        So the battery lasts longer, but you're forced to use it less over that time period?

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        • identicon
          Paul Brinker, 11 Sep 2017 @ 7:31pm

          Re: Re: Re: Limiting battery capacity

          You have it correct for the most part, Li Batteries will take small amounts of damage if you draw the battery to low and small shorts if you fill the battery to much.

          If you keep the battery in the range of 20% and 80% you will give it much longer total health.

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        • identicon
          Dingledore the Mildly Uncomfortable When Seated, 12 Sep 2017 @ 4:31am

          Re: Re: Re: Limiting battery capacity

          Number of cycles does not automatically equate to longer battery life if a cycle is shorter. It may just mean you have to plug it in more often to achieve the same mileage over the life of the battery.

          Tesla aren't increasing the capacity of the battery - they're reducing the minimum limit that the car will still run. The driver didn't have to charge up again to get the bigger mileage. So a "cheap" Tesla has to have 40% charge to run, but an "expensive" Tesla can run on 10%. There may be some efficencies to doing the former, but if the cheaper car had a better mileage per battery life figure I doubt it would be cheaper.

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          • icon
            Richard (profile), 12 Sep 2017 @ 5:50am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Limiting battery capacity

            I suspect that this has something to do with the fact that at the moment replacement Tesla batteries are effectively subsidised - even more so if replaced under warranty.

            However their prediction is that in future this will not be necessary. This gives the company a motive for discouraging behaviour likely to reduce battery life - whilst still providing the ability to make full use of the current technology for those who are prepared to pay a bit more.

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            • icon
              Richard (profile), 12 Sep 2017 @ 5:52am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Limiting battery capacity

              Incidentally this business model is already standard in the aero engine market. Rolls -Royce will sell exactly the same engine at different thrust levels with a different software build, a different price and different servicing arrangements.

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2017 @ 12:53pm

          Re: Re: Re: Limiting battery capacity

          Might want to check your math a bit more...
          300 cycles at 100% = You get to use over the lifetime of the battery, 300 times its capacity.

          1400 cycles at 40% = You get to use over the lifetime of the battery, 560 times its capacity. So you don't get "almost 3x longer battery life." by my math, its "almost 2x longer battery life."

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JMT (profile), 11 Sep 2017 @ 9:29pm

        Re: Re: Limiting battery capacity

        "I would say that all electric cars that uses modern batteries limits the capacity and there is a very good reason for limiting the battery capacity you can use."

        That's not the issue here though, as these are exactly the same batteries used in more expensive models that give you more capacity. This is a marketing issue, not an engineering one.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          eol, 12 Sep 2017 @ 11:45pm

          Re: Re: Re: Limiting battery capacity

          I agree, this has to do with marketing, but I thing in a slightly subtler way. To sell more cars Tesla has to provide customers with products from multiple price ranges. But producing multiple models of cars that are actually different from each other takes money: you have to have multiple factories, assembly lines, manage multiple technologies, have more employees.

          So this practice was used since long ago, for example by processor manufacturers: instead of producing multiple models for different prices, you just assemble one production line, go for a single high end model, then artificially limit its capabilities and sell it for different prices. I suspect that's what is happening here with batteries.

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      • icon
        Kumouri (profile), 11 Sep 2017 @ 10:59pm

        Re: Re: Limiting battery capacity

        I agree you have to do SOME overprovisioning of battery capacity in the battery packs (same as in SSDs). But they aren't only doing it to improve the lifetime of the battery, they're also doing it to artificially segment their market. Every Model S has the same size battery, but if you pay more they'll let you charge it more.

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        • icon
          Kumouri (profile), 11 Sep 2017 @ 11:07pm

          Re: Re: Re: Limiting battery capacity

          Having done a bit more research, it appears they only do this with their newest models. And it appears that the 75 actually does charge up to 100% of the pack. So the 60 is much better for the life of your battery pack.

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      • icon
        mhajicek (profile), 12 Sep 2017 @ 12:03am

        Re: Re: Limiting battery capacity

        This (building all the hardware the same and disabling/enabling features by software) has been standard in the machine tool industry for 40 years. Want more memory, more work offsets, more macro variables etc., You hand over a few thousand dollars and their tech punches in a code.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          TRX, 12 Sep 2017 @ 5:52am

          Re: Re: Re: Limiting battery capacity

          Yeah. That's one of several reasons we're retrofitting most of the shop with Mach and new motion controllers.

          No more random "activation code" warnings, no GPS location errors when we move a machine to a different building, no "your call is very important to us" for hours on the support line...

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      • icon
        btr1701 (profile), 12 Sep 2017 @ 12:16pm

        Re: Re: Limiting battery capacity

        > The reason is that the batteries aging is affected by how
        > deep you discharge the battery

        That doesn't explain why you can 'unlock' more battery capacity merely by paying them a premium.

        If it was for safety and battery life, as you say, then that wouldn't be an option.

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    • identicon
      Mason Wheeler, 11 Sep 2017 @ 3:31pm

      Re:

      I'm also terrified of over-the-air updates. What prevents anybody from performing a MITM attack and screwing your car?

      Cryptographic signatures. The same thing that's kept Windows Update secure for the better part of two decades.

      There are good reasons to be worried about this technology, but that's not one of them.

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      • identicon
        Thad, 11 Sep 2017 @ 4:30pm

        Re: Re:

        Cryptographic signatures. The same thing that's kept Windows Update secure for the better part of two decades.

        Not exactly.

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        • identicon
          Dingledore the Mildly Uncomfortable When Seated, 12 Sep 2017 @ 5:05am

          Re: Re: Re:

          To be fair, that was a flaw identified 2 years ago and wasn't to do with the actual Windows Update service, but could hit the WSUS enterprise managed update service (for companies that do their own updates).

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Ninja (profile), 12 Sep 2017 @ 5:55am

        Re: Re:

        Yeah, Microsoft may be doing it right. But what about everybody else? And it's not firmware updates, it's software updates. I do have issues when it comes to software that can be easily replaced but firmware is an entirely different beast.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      R.H. (profile), 12 Sep 2017 @ 1:25pm

      Re:

      They were choosing to limit capacity via software since not everyone who wanted to buy a Tesla could afford the 75kWh model. For that reason, they decided to offer a couple of software downgraded 60kWh models for, IIRC, $4,500 and $9,000 less which could be upgraded OTA if the difference was paid at any point in the future.

      They've since stopped selling the software downgraded models since they've released the less expensive Model 3.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    aerinai (profile), 11 Sep 2017 @ 12:03pm

    Welcome to the future

    Just like everything, this is about trade-offs.

    Microsoft has had the ability to 'sabotage' your computer since XP with software updates. Apple could cut you off from your iCloud backup any time you want. The phone in your pocket relays location-based information to you every second of the day.

    Hardware is becoming software. I think CFAA is broken, not that hardware can be updated OTA. Perfect example is Jeep got hacked a couple years back. Only 'fix' was taking it into a dealership! If something is internet-connected, it should be able to be OTA updated. If that scares you, it should scare you more that anything reaching 'outside' to the internet is way more scary when it cannot be patched.

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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 11 Sep 2017 @ 12:04pm

    Missed Opportunities

    It seems to me that Tesla, and others, are missing an opportunity by sending over the air updates. If they required the owners to bring the cars into an approved maintenance facility to get the updates there would be some money spent, as well as better security for the computer system. How is it that they didn't figure this out for themselves?

    If the issue is that they want data from the cars in real time, make the system outgoing only.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2017 @ 2:21pm

      Re: Missed Opportunities

      And give up that awesome power?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        OGquaker, 11 Sep 2017 @ 3:23pm

        Re: History is a repeat of opportunities

        The only way to compete in the foam cup biz is to burn your cup factory down and spend your insurance settlement on a newer factory: Musk is always building a better factory to keep up..Thus the world has 40% more car factory than product!
        In the 1980's every Japanese VCR was new factory with a limited run, every VCR was identical, the remote has the 'upgrade'.
        When i built a electric limousine factory in 1995-6, a Buick engineer said the police were begging that GM could brick your car safely, and lock you inside.
        Future Shock? Just dig out your father's and greatgrandfather's Scientific Americas.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2017 @ 1:39pm

    Free Credit Monitoring

    I love the idea of "free credit monitoring" as a consolation prize for when something horrible happens.

    "We understand that you just fell off a skyscraper while being mauled by a bear, please accept this year of free credit monitoring."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2017 @ 2:01pm

      Re: Free Credit Monitoring

      Yeah, but I haven't figured out where this free credit is coming from that I'm supposed to be monitoring.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2017 @ 1:41pm

    Stallman is evergreen

    There ought to be a market for a "dumb" electric car.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2017 @ 1:46pm

    Do we know for sure they didn't just uncap a software capacity designed to ensure battery lifetime because they figured might as well let 'em burn to 0% as long as they get the hell out of there?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2017 @ 1:51pm

      Re:

      Right there in the article

      The first thing you need to understand is that while Tesla sells different version of its Model S, with different ranges, the range is actually entirely software-dependent.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        David (profile), 11 Sep 2017 @ 2:13pm

        Re: Software capacity?

        Yes, however, we don't have internal memos or directives.

        In the computer chip business functionality can be disabled because it didn't completely meet specs, e.g. if a FPU drew too much power but otherwise functioned perfectly it was disabled. Because it didn't meet specs.

        For Tesla the battery might well support 80+% of the pack's rated goal. Thus sell it for a lower price. Updating the allowable usage might mean nothing more than bumping it up X%. As stated, better to get the vehicle and user out of harm's way.

        Time will tell on this one, armchair generals are missing crucial data. Doesn't mean they won't waste a ton of bandwidth second guessing everyone, it's what they do.

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2017 @ 2:20pm

          Re: Re: Software capacity?

          >the battery might well support 80+% of the pack's rated goal.

          In which case upgrading the battery rating to allow people to evacuate would be dangerous, as they would overestimate their ranges, and run out of power on the road.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Machin Shin, 12 Sep 2017 @ 5:36am

            Re: Re: Re: Software capacity?

            Or if the battery was limited to 80% due to some defect and you remove that limit and they charge it to 100% it might overheat and catch fire.

            That tells me these batteries are considered perfectly fine and fully rated for this use. If they weren't then Tesla wouldn't risk it. It would be a PR disaster if you pushed an update that causes a hurricane victims car to explode. So they had to be sure that this would work and was safe.

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          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2017 @ 10:06am

            Re: Re: Re: Software capacity?

            This. David, you're the armchair general you mention. Your argument didn't make any sense.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        rick (profile), 12 Sep 2017 @ 6:22am

        Re: Re:

        It doesn't matter if it is in the article if the article is wrong. The 60 has the same battery as the 75, but software limited to 60 KWh. The others have more cells in the battery pack. There is no way to take a 60 or 75 to a 90 or 100 other than to physically replace the pack with one.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2017 @ 2:17pm

      Re:

      Do we know for sure they didn't just uncap a software capacity designed to ensure battery lifetime because they figured might as well let 'em burn to 0% as long as they get the hell out of there?

      See the article's first sentence: "You can have a new Model S for $5000 less than before, but it'll cost $8500 to unlock its full capability."

      I.e., Tesla will sell you the same software update (but permanent) for $8500.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      OGquaker, 11 Sep 2017 @ 3:41pm

      Re: Rather fight another day

      Army electronics had a 'battle' switch back when;
      rather be farther away with a blue-screen-of-death then let me and my car float away... blissing out on the car's sound system

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Phil, 11 Sep 2017 @ 1:48pm

    Were 60D owners aware?

    In electric cars, weight matters.

    Were purchasers of smaller models aware that their cars would have to carry the extra weight of the larger battery and that it would negatively impact range? Or are they given slightly more than 60D to compensate. If so, that still makes the 60D less energy efficient by weight.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2017 @ 3:44pm

      Re: Were 60D owners aware?

      Why does that even matter? They were sold a car that would be X number of miles on a charge. If it was lighter, Tesla would still have it programed to go the same miles per charge.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JMT (profile), 11 Sep 2017 @ 9:31pm

      Re: Were 60D owners aware?

      Yes they were aware, and knew they could pay to 'upgrade' their battery later.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2017 @ 1:48pm

    well, DUH

    all you idiots prejaculating over the prospect of "Autonomous Electric Cars" don't realize
    1. you're no longer a driver, but a rider
    2. if you're not driving, then someone/something (software) else is, and that something can redirect "your car" or prevent "your car" from even starting
    3. hacking: not if, but when
    4. Revelation 13:16-18, self driving car about control
    5. man is not perfect, and thus, nothing man builds is perfect (even software)

    I'll drive myself, thank you
    (see hating, tin foil, conspiracy theorist comments below)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2017 @ 1:51pm

    Batteries wear proportional to depth of discharge.

    It's not an arbitrary with-holding of goodies, but a spreadsheeted cost to Tesla. Besides the risk of explosion with more wear.

    The real interesting point will be when masses of batteries begin to wear out. Then Tesla collapses.

    There's only one reason GM got out of electric cars, and that is batteries still aren't cost-effective.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2017 @ 1:59pm

      Re: Batteries wear proportional to depth of discharge.

      That is what i was going to point out. Granted, the more expensive models with the same batteries already have this range. So tesla obviously considers it to be safe, and pushing the customers for more cash. It would be interesting to see tesla's data on their batteries for wear & tear.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2017 @ 2:03pm

      Re: Batteries wear proportional to depth of discharge.

      Would that be the GM that makes the Chevrolet Bolt electric car?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      OldMugwump (profile), 11 Sep 2017 @ 2:39pm

      Re: Batteries wear proportional to depth of discharge.

      Actually, for Li+ cells, it's both extremes of charge that are wearing (not just discharge).

      But if the charge management system avoids those extremes, modern cells can last a long, long time.

      There are Tesla Model S cars on the road with over 500,000 km on them - still on the original battery pack and with > 80% of the original charge capacity.

      That's more miles that most cars (ICE cars, anyway) get before going to the junkyard.

      (Will all-aluminium electrics last longer? Hard to say, but if they last long enough to wear out the battery pack, they'll be LONG out of warranty by then.)

      I don't think Tesla is going to have a financial problem re battery wear.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ben (profile), 11 Sep 2017 @ 1:51pm

    The upside has a downside

    The first thought I had was "cool".

    Then I thought: that means they can now downsize the range of all those cars (and others) whenever they want to; that scares me. The fact that a "surprise upgrade" is possible means that a "surprise downgrade" is also possible; they shouldn't be touching my car unless I consent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Paul Brinker, 11 Sep 2017 @ 2:23pm

      Re: The upside has a downside

      Being the owner of a Tesla I can tell you that you have final say on any updates that the car runs. They can push an update to your car, but you have to actully select "Yes" for the car to run the update. This is not something that happens when your driving down the road as it can take a few hours depending on the update.

      In addition as I said below, this is a software controlled contract term (the extra battery), if for some reason the update went the other way and bricked your car then you would have full rights to bring a lawsuit to Tesla, if for your car was bricked while evacuating from a storm then you could even hit them for far more damages as they are now endangering your life.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        crade (profile), 11 Sep 2017 @ 2:33pm

        Re: Re: The upside has a downside

        This is what I was wondering, but according to this article I found:

        https://electrek.co/2017/09/09/tesla-extends-range-vehicles-for-free-in-florida-escape-hurrica ne-irma/

        "While he didn’t ask for it nor knew why it changed, Tesla had temporarily unlocked the remaining 15 kWh of the car’s software-limited battery pack option to facilitate the owner’s evacuation."

        It sounds like the prompt can be bypassed?

        If you need to assent to the upgrade then I really don't see how it's supposed to be a problem.. In that case it's just easier than taking it to the dealer to upgrade

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        crade (profile), 11 Sep 2017 @ 2:33pm

        Re: Re: The upside has a downside

        This is what I was wondering, but according to this article I found:

        https://electrek.co/2017/09/09/tesla-extends-range-vehicles-for-free-in-florida-escape-hurrica ne-irma/

        "While he didn’t ask for it nor knew why it changed, Tesla had temporarily unlocked the remaining 15 kWh of the car’s software-limited battery pack option to facilitate the owner’s evacuation."

        It sounds like the prompt can be bypassed?

        If you need to assent to the upgrade then I really don't see how it's supposed to be a problem.. In that case it's just easier than taking it to the dealer to upgrade

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JMT (profile), 11 Sep 2017 @ 9:37pm

        Re: Re: The upside has a downside

        "Being the owner of a Tesla I can tell you that you have final say on any updates that the car runs. They can push an update to your car, but you have to actully select "Yes" for the car to run the update."

        And all you can do is trust that that's actually true, because you have no way of knowing/proving otherwise. It's not like other companies haven't been caught out doing something they said they weren't.

        *"This is not something that happens when your driving down the road as it can take a few hours depending on the update."

        They know when you're not driving down the road...

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  • icon
    TechDescartes (profile), 11 Sep 2017 @ 1:58pm

    Tesla (Re)Coil

    The first thing you need to understand is that while Tesla sells different version of its Model S, with different ranges, the range is actually entirely software-dependent. That is, it uses the same batteries in different cars -- it just limits how much they'll charge via software.

    So one's a Model S and one's a Model-less?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 11 Sep 2017 @ 2:07pm

    And now for something completely different.

    Last year I finally found the "tlp" utility for my Thinkpad laptop that allows me to stop the battery charging when it reaches 79% of a full charge.

    Since then it has retained its overall capacity of 43%. A year prior to that, it had 100%.

    Charging lithium cells to 100% of capacity is not doing them a favor. Yes, it's nice in an emergency. But if you don't need it, you are much better off not using them fully.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Paul Brinker, 11 Sep 2017 @ 2:17pm

    This is not as bad as it sounds

    First off this is a contract as part of the purchase of the car, as part of your price your agreeing to the lower price now for the ability to buy the additional battery as an upgrade. In fact for most of the time its not even a stupid idea because the car will charge faster and 100% charge is actully only 80% of the battery's full charge.

    This trade off allows the battery to last longer and is not a bad deal given you get diminishing returns on charge speed over 80% full anyway.

    Could you hack the car? Sure! But then Tesla does not have to provide you with OTA updates as you totally messed with the computer control system.

    Point is, you can buy things with software limited features as an element of the contract. On top of this Tesla makes it very clear what is happening as well as clear results if you "go Around" and hack the computer.

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    • identicon
      Thad, 11 Sep 2017 @ 3:00pm

      Re: This is not as bad as it sounds

      Could you hack the car? Sure!

      And could someone else hack the car? You bet!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2017 @ 3:09pm

      Re: This is not as bad as it sounds

      as part of your price your agreeing to the lower price now for the ability to buy the additional battery as an upgrade

      You buy the entire battery now, you can buy new software for an upgrade. That's not the same thing.

      because the car will charge faster

      Car charges at the exact same speed, it just says full when it's at a lower charge.

      Could you hack the car? Sure!

      Considering that you previously stated in your post that this limitation is part of the contract, the fact that you claim it's legal is astounding. That's a very clear contract violation. Even absent that though, it's breaking several laws. A fair use defense may get around those (though not the contract angle), depending on if the courts/ Library of Congress consider it to be more like jailbreaking an iphone, or more like attempting third party repairs to a Deere tractor.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Rocky, 11 Sep 2017 @ 4:06pm

        Re: Re: This is not as bad as it sounds

        It's amazing how many 'Anonymous' lawyers there are on the internet that specializes in every conceivable niche-aspect of the law.

        The car already has all the functionality it needs, what you as a customer are paying for with the longer range is the convenience of fewer stops to charge the car.

        The price-hike for the longer range has a very real reason, the increased wear-and-tear on the battery increases the likelyhood of a failure and Tesla needing to replace the pack inside the warranty-period and the cost of that must come from somewhere.

        You probably could hack the car to use the full capacity of the battery but don't expect any warranties to be valid afterwards.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2017 @ 1:39am

          Re: Re: Re: This is not as bad as it sounds

          Paying for the increased risk of needing warranty replacement?? That's... an actual reason grounded in, uh, physical reality. So it is actually not only a sales strategy. Cool.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JMT (profile), 11 Sep 2017 @ 9:57pm

      Re: This is not as bad as it sounds

      "...the car will charge faster..."

      Mostly agree with you, but this barely deserves to be called a benefit. That's like ordering a smaller drink so you'll get it faster.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Paul Brinker, 11 Sep 2017 @ 10:16pm

        Re: Re: This is not as bad as it sounds

        This is a bigger deal then you might think,

        Charging a Tesla from 20% to 60% takes less then 30 min at a supercharger. 60% to 80% takes about 15 more min. 80% to 100% can easily take an additional hr as the battery simply wont charge as fast anymore. This is why most drivers stop at 80%.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          JMT (profile), 12 Sep 2017 @ 5:22am

          Re: Re: Re: This is not as bad as it sounds

          But since we're talking about the same battery whether you have a 60 or a 75, it takes the same time to reach the same level of charge in either. The 75 just lets you have more if you want it by charging for longer. So no, it's not even a little deal.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jordan Chandler, 11 Sep 2017 @ 2:19pm

    Hmm

    All this tells me is that the cars were either crippled before or not operating at peak performance, before, because, reasons.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2017 @ 2:27pm

    Artificial Scarcity

    I'm kind of surprised nobody has used the term "Artificial Scarcity" yet. The **AA use DRM in an attempt to create artificial scarcity of music/video. Here we have Tesla using software to temporarily reduce an artificial scarcity of battery capacity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 11 Sep 2017 @ 2:28pm

    The only problem I see with this is that there should be a setting and / or prompt the user opt out of updates.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2017 @ 7:26pm

      Re:

      You mean like the prompt that says "Load Software Update" and in the Release Notes it says "this update will kill your engine/car since the cops are chasing you right now"?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        crade (profile), 12 Sep 2017 @ 6:10am

        Re: Re:

        Just like if you were doing the software update at the dealer or updating any software or firmware for anything, it's up to you to do your research and decide whether or not you want the upgrade. If you are worried about it, just wait until someone else tries it first :)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    OldMugwump (profile), 11 Sep 2017 @ 2:31pm

    Simple workarounds

    If this is scary, it was scary before Tesla unlocked the full battery capacity for the hurricane - doing that was a good thing regardless.

    The scary thing of course is the potential for the manufacturer (or the police, or a hacker...) to brick a car remotely.

    There are 2 simple workarounds to deal with that, which are routinely use in other industries:

    1 - The car owner should be able to prevent/reject an over-the-air firmware update or commands.

    2 - Even if the firmware is installed, the owner should always be able to force a 'factory reset' to an older, stable version of firmware. It may not have all the bells and whistles of the latest version, but the car will move.

    Do those two (simple and common) things, and 99% of the problems go away.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 11 Sep 2017 @ 2:37pm

      Re: Simple workarounds

      You just made me think of a Model S sized Faraday car cover, one that you can drive around in.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rekrul, 11 Sep 2017 @ 7:36pm

      Re: Simple workarounds

      1 - The car owner should be able to prevent/reject an over-the-air firmware update or commands.

      Any such control is usually an illusion and can be bypassed by the company.

      I use an older version of Firefox because I don't like the newer versions and they have the nasty habit of blue-screening my system. I have set Firefox to never check for updates, but yet it has repeatedly downloaded and tried to install an update without my permission.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      crade (profile), 12 Sep 2017 @ 6:12am

      Re: Simple workarounds

      the potential for the police or a hacker to brick a car remotely is called on star capable, and it's been around a lot longer than Tesla.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2017 @ 3:06pm

    People in 2007: new technology is terrifying!

    Techdirt in 2007: no it's not, just imagine all the opportunities for new products, services, and business models!

    Techdirt in 2017: new technology is terrifying!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rekrul, 11 Sep 2017 @ 7:39pm

      Re:

      Come back and post this again after a hacker shuts down your car (or the car of someone you care about) while they're doing 50-60MPH on the highway.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JMT (profile), 11 Sep 2017 @ 10:00pm

      Re:

      Woosh...

      The point here is that new technology does provide opportunities for new products, services, and business model, but it can also be terrifying. That's always been true, and both sides should always be discussed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 11 Sep 2017 @ 3:59pm

    IIRC wasn't Intel selling chips where you could buy a code later to enable to other cores?

    To the MBAs this sounds great, because they only worry about the bottom line. Customers exist merely to pay and accept whatever the corporation benevolently allows them, & the corp giveth and the corp taketh and in the end you get 1.45 class action settlement when Sony takes away features you bought the damn thing for because piracy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Canuck, 11 Sep 2017 @ 11:34pm

    Damn it, Mike

    I'm a fan, but you shit the bed on this one. Get all the facts before publishing crap like this. And I don't see a single Tesla owner here agreeing with you. Go figure.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JMT (profile), 12 Sep 2017 @ 5:28am

      Re: Damn it, Mike

      "Get all the facts before publishing crap like this."

      I notice you haven't actually disputed any facts or pointed out any that are missing. You seem to have missed the point of the article.

      "And I don't see a single Tesla owner here agreeing with you."

      Because Tesla owners are the authority here? Get real. This is a much bigger issue than one product, it applies to anything that can be remotely updated (or degraded) by the manufacturer.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ahrlad, 12 Sep 2017 @ 12:56am

    Batteries

    I don't know the particulars in this case, but there are potential reasons Tesla might limit battery discharge outside of marketing.

    First, even cells that are "identical" will perform very different outside of the factory, kind of like how CPU manufacturers clock their chips differently depending on how they perform and charge very different prices. Cheaper Tesla models could be fitted out with batteries that can't be discharged to as low voltage as "premium" cells without damage to over-time capacity.

    Second, even if the cheaper models have batteries with equal capacity to more expensive models, it could be a question of warranties and repairs - cells degrade after a number of cycles that's very strongly correlated to discharge voltage, and Tesla might be more willing to replace the batteries of drivers that paid a premium for them - the limited driving distance of cheaper models mean their batteries will last significantly longer.

    I don't doubt that market segmentation is part of the equation here, but there are more variables at work here than just artificial limits.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2017 @ 3:23am

    Bullet Dodged

    "...it gave a 'free' upgrade to a bunch of Tesla drivers in Florida..."

    I was apprehensive for a moment that you were going to say, "Tesla owners."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 12 Sep 2017 @ 6:12am

    I don't really agree with this one Mike.

    It was pretty nice of them to increase the range during an emergency.

    If you want to fear the ability of an auto manufacturer to be able to remotely disable a vehicle, I'm pretty sure that one was settled with OnStar in the 90's (or maybe 80's?). It's not really anything new.

    Vehicle manufacturers have been doing this kind of thing for awhile and calling our Tesla specifically when they actually used it for something relatively good does not make much sense.

    Artificially limiting the range or power of a vehicle is not anything new either. Not an over-the-air thing, but in the 80's and 90's, engines were frequently de-tuned to produce less power and better emissions. Most vehicles today that do not come with power door locks include all of the wiring and just not the switches. Fiat/Chrysler sells lots of vehicles with "infotainment" (I hate that term) systems that have all of the navigation capabilities and software and just charge $900 to enable it. This is not new by any means and certainly not specific to Tesla.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2017 @ 7:02am

    who actually owns the car you bought

    that's exactly what struck me. you buy a house and then upgrade so you can use the upstairs bathrooms.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Carlb, 12 Sep 2017 @ 8:27am

    Anyone remember DreckTV and the "Black Sunday" attack? DiSH and "America's Top One"? Apparently direct-broadcast satellite in the early 2000's was plagued with compromised encryption schemes, which allowed a few viewers to download dodgy software and use it to unlock extra channels. The various pay-TV companies were also in the business of selling receivers to tune those signals - and this hardware was riddled with firmware back doors which were used and abused by providers to retaliate against anyone trying to get free TV. Eventually the providers went back and fixed the issue properly by sending out new decoder smart cards to replace the ones with the compromised encryption - but that didn't happen overnight as a card swap costs money while malware is cheap.

    What if this sort of thing were to happen with electric cars? Malicious software writing "GAME OVER" into the one-time-programmable memory of a TV smart card is one thing, but if the same approach were taken to motor vehicles? I can see it now... some 31337 h3x0r kludges together a program to unlock 100% battery capacity, a manufacturer retaliates by remotely bricking the affected vehicles and one just happens to be immobilised in the middle of a level rail crossing in front of an oncoming locomotive. The lawyers would have a field day.

    I'd like to think that it'd never happen and that automakers would reserve dodgy software for more mundane tasks, like Dieselgate, but it could happen just as easily as Windows Update (which was supposed to be for plugging security holes) was instead abused for everything from foisting "Windows Genuine Advantage" to snoop and inflicting uninvited Win10 "upgrades". The lastest consumer versions of the OS don't appear to even let the user turn "updates" off, what's up with that? I'm glad my motorcar doesn't run desktop PC software!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John, 12 Sep 2017 @ 8:43am

    Plenty of companies have done something like this

    IBM for example used to just enable hardware already in the machine when you purchased a feature. The only difference was that they sent out a technician to do it.

    People don't bother to update their computers with critical patches and it causes all kinds of problems for others. I cannot imagine allowing people to decide to run on version 1.0 firmware forever when there is a patch that would save the lives of someone in that car or another.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2017 @ 10:21am

    no measure of health...

    ...to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.

    See the movie "In Time" for a partial and flawed glimpse at future broader implications of corporate control of software. -crappy movie honestly, but gives one allot to think on... Life-sustaining hackable medical devices already exist (pacemakers), it's not so far fetched as it might seam.

    Also, what's the difference between a remotely updateable autonomous car (5k lbs that accelerates to 60 in 3 seconds) and a lethal autonomous weapon system? ...nothing more then a malicious software update. No surprise Elon has such strong opinions on killer robots and AI, he's built more potential kill bots then anyone on the planet.

    Sign me up for one of those "dumb" electric cars- no autonomy, no wireless connection, no corporate control over my property.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, 12 Sep 2017 @ 10:22am

    The Inherent Limits of a Battery Warranty

    A Tesla battery has, I believe, a warranty. But the fact is that a battery is not a durable component in the ordinarily understood sense of the word. Nonetheless, because the Tesla's battery is so expensive, Tesla is obliged to write a warranty on it, and that gives Tesla a vested interest in the battery's longevity. The manufacturer of my cellphone does not write a warranty on the battery, but the cellphone's battery is easily removable, and I bought some spares from Amazon. Tesla's actions in restricting the use of the battery seem reasonable.

    The problem is that there are a lot of people who are in denial about the actual performance limits of a battery. As I have said before, the genius of electricity is in flow, not in storage. If you use a battery intelligently, to cover lapses in flow, you will find that an inexpensive battery does a good job for you. No one complains very much about the price of Uninterruptible Power Supplies, for example. The better sort of UPS comes with a cable which can be used to trigger an automatic orderly showdown with the last of the remaining power.

    You get into difficulties when you try to use a battery for electrical heavy lifting, trying to use it as if it were a tank of gasoline. Here is where Tesla's conduct has been more equivocal. They have encouraged customers in the belief that a lithium-ion battery is a "Moore's Law" product, a kind of rapidly improving universal solution for everything. They have created profoundly flawed products such as the Power-Wall home battery pack. There are many conditions under which it is rational to use the traditional lead-acid battery, eg. conditions where weight and bulk are not important, but cheapness, and simplicity of recycling iare important. Tesla's approach is to sell the customer something from the Gigafactory, whether the the customer needs it or not.

    Tesla's big weakness is that it does not own or control the streets. The streets are designed to work with gasoline cars, and there really isn't much of anything Tesla can do about it, except grinding out dubious performance claims.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2017 @ 12:29pm

    Its not a good thing, its a great thing.

    And CPU's are limited the same way, do any of you complain about that?

    AMD and Intel, both, have for years crippled higher binned CPU's (where they test CPU's, the ones that work at the highest settings without errors get the higher part numbers, the ones that fail at higher settings but work 100% at lower settings are binned as lower part numbers) to lower specs to meet the demands of the lower spec they had created. There were TONS of triple core CPU's being "upgraded" to 4 core CPUs, and there are countless Intel CPUs that are binned for high specs but sold at lower ones. They all use the same silicon, they all use the same instruction set, they all use the same parts.

    Again, what Tesla did is a great thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2017 @ 2:52pm

    parroting of industry narratives

    "And CPU's are limited the same way, do any of you complain about that?"

    Yes, that practice is even worse, and I've complained bitterly about it since I first learned of it- for all the good that's done... Two wrongs don't make a right.

    Tesla's battery manipulation is less harmful then most hardware limiting due to the tangible beneficial trade-offs to the consumer mentioned in other posts- in addition to the extra cost r&d and testing having a genuinely smaller battery would entail. That doesn't make it right.

    It doesn't cover up the horrors of the silent theft of ownership rights, and the awful places that's leading us. Nor does it make it any less grossly negligent to have wireless connectivity to "life or death" crucial systems in a time when computer security is so abysmal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Philly Bob, 13 Sep 2017 @ 10:35pm

    If they can do this... imagine down the road when the company "decides" you need a new car and they disable your old one after 5 years... and you still have 2 years to pay on it. Stew on that a while.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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