Tesla’s generosity is causing paranoia – should it?

Since Elon Musk continues to push back on his promise to launch Tesla in India, I’m going use a less than deserving comparison here – Tarzan the Wonder Car. The possessed vehicle with a mind of its own was expected to freak the audience out. It didn’t. In an incident which should frustrate the producers of the movie to no end, a feature in Tesla cars which amounts to probably less than the smallest fraction of the stunts Tarzan could pull off has got people questioning their safety in the hands of advanced technology.

Just before hurricane Irma hit Florida, Elon Musk had magically magically unlocked the batteries of every Tesla in Florida to maximise the distance that people fleeing from the category 3 storm could travel before stopping at one of the company’s “superstation” charging centres.

Hurricane Irma forces the evacuation of 6.4 million people in Florida

Typically, these types of over-the-air upgrades can cost thousands – if not tens of thousands – of dollars.

As a Tesla spokesperson explained, the company decided on the mass unlocking strategy after a customer called and if the company could upgrade his battery because he was trying to flee the storm. Tesla’s supercharger network is quite strong in Florida for a Model S 60 (the shortest range option) to get by with, but the temporary access to the full 75kWh of energy in the battery an owner of the same model was given an extra 30 miles range without having to pay  between 4500 dollars and 9000 dollars for the upgrade.  The company decided to temporarily unlock other vehicles with the same software-lock battery packs in the region of mandatory evacuation.

Unfortunately, cynicism trumps gratitude. This act of generosity is also being perceived as an unnerving example of the control Tesla exercises over the vehicles it produces, primarily generating a fear of the implications of remote controlled cars. What are the chances of the CEOs of such companies deciding to become mass murderers and turning off the engines in another occasion of emergency? Or the technology simply becoming an instrument to stage accidents?

Such detractors would be heart broken to learn that most luxury cars already are remotely re accessed by computers. The technology is called telematic. Unless you are a James Bond-grade superspy/diplomat/mafia kingpin, you can be rest assured no one will invest the time to hack into the power system to assassinate you.

Many are offended by the company for holding out on the full capacity of the batteries saying that customers are sold half charged batteries while its potential goes to waste all the while the owner keeps the car, unless they opt for an upgrade. But that is hardly a situation to take issue with –  different models come with different energy capacities and are priced differently. It’s similar to the smartphone that you use – even though it may be compatible with your phone, not all applications come free.

Also, another reason they don’t optimise the capacity full time is because it harms the battery. The buffer that keeps the vehicle from utilising the battery to its maximum capacity also prevents it from running it down to zero charge. Overtime this happens, it damages the battery to an extent reducing your capacity, recharge rate, and mileage, and it is never really possible to recharge the battery 100% after that.

This was an emergency exception that was bound to be rolled back to protect batteries.

If this concerns you, but not your phone becoming an active microphone, laptop camera being accessed, and your IP address pointing to your exact location … you have been successfully distracted.

-Zaiceka Ahmed

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