Elon Musk can giveth, and he can taketh away, as proven this weekend when Tesla decided to temporarily grant some Florida customers a longer travel range to get clear of incoming Hurricane Irma.
Tesla delivered software updates to some of its vehicles in the Sunshine State, unlocking the full potential of their batteries, which amounted to approximately 30-40 extra miles of travel for those fleeing the storm.
Certain Tesla vehicles are limited to 80% of battery usage unless customers purchase upgrades, and the typical range for these models is between approximately 200-265 miles with optimal conditions and driving habits.
The temporary upgrades, which will only function for a brief period before they are retracted, would normally cost users between $4,500 and $9,000, and are transmitted to the vehicle over the air via WiFi.
Tesla was contacted by a customer who needed the additional mileage in order to escape a mandatory evacuation zone, prompting the company to unlock the batteries of other vehicles in the region.
“We reached out to Tesla and a representative confirmed that the company has put in place the emergency measure to temporarily extend the range of the vehicles of Tesla owners in the path of Hurricane Irma,” reports Electrek. “A Tesla Model S 60 owner in Florida reached out to us with almost 40 more miles than in his usual full charge and a new ’75’ badge in his car software.”
“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.”
Tesla’s network of ‘Supercharger’ stations in Florida is ample for driving long distances in normal conditions, but due to heavy traffic creating lengthy travel times, and some of the charging stations being closed or operating at “reduced service,” the extra battery life was likely a relief for some drivers.
As many are likely to be surprised by what Electrek calls an “unforeseen feature,” it should raise important questions about free movement and the implications of vehicles that are beholden to centralized control – whether to a corporation, government, or hackers.
This scene from 2002’s Minority Report gives a chilling example of what it could look like if ‘authorities’ decide to remotely commandeer your vehicle against your will – an especially unsettling scenario considering the tenuous nature of identity protection, most recently demonstrated by the exposure of 143 million Americans’ personal information in a massive security breach at Equifax.
In 2015, WIRED magazine demonstrated a Jeep Cherokee being wirelessly hacked, enabling the rogue controllers to override the driver and operate primary functions of the car, including braking, accelerating, and steering.
According to users on a Tesla message board, the provisional upgrades will be canceled on September 16.