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Are Tesla Motors’ OTA Software Updates the Future of Recalls?

Tesla Motors Cell-Tower SST (Special Service Tool)
Tesla Motors Cell-Tower SST (Special Service Tool)

After Tesla Motors used an over-the-air (OTA) software update and a mailed update part, we wonder, “Will OTA software updates be the future?”

Automotive recalls are a necessary evil for automakers, but are often an absolute necessity to keep passengers and pedestrians safe. In recent memory, perhaps the most-well-known recall series started with the Toyota Unintended Acceleration (UA) recall. The fix was common sense and a software update, as well as a completely unnecessary accelerator pedal repair or replacement, all of which required a visit to an authorized service center. In the last couple of days, Tesla Motors has issued a recall, requiring a software update and an updated part.

The difference between these two recalls, however, is that Tesla Motors‘ recall doesn’t require a visit to a service center or even a change of driving or charging habits. Instead, the software update was issued over the air, via mobile data networks. The software update was issued on Tuesday, and it’s entirely likely that all 29,000+ Tesla Model S’ onboard charging systems have already been updated, requiring no effort on the part of owners. Updated NEMA 14-50 charging adapters have also been mailed to owners to replace their current ones.

As today’s vehicles become more connected, via 3G and 4G networks, drivers can take advantage of connectivity features, such as up-to-the-minute traffic reports for better GPS navigation and internet radio programming, among others. Tesla Motors, however, is the first to include OTA powertrain reprogramming among these connectivity features, but will others follow? If Toyota vehicles had been so-equipped, the UA recall could have been solved in a matter of minutes, with an OTA software update and a message on the screen telling drivers to remove the extra floor mats.

Instead, drivers had to bring their vehicles, for at least half a day, to an authorized service center. There, a thirty-minute software update could be reflashed, via at least $3,000 worth of equipment, as well as some adjustments to the floor and accelerator pedal. Considering that today’s vehicles are rolling computers, it seems obvious that the next step should be universal connectivity. Future Tesla-Motors-esque OTA software updates would certainly go a long way to make future recalls easier, at least software-based ones. After all, Tesla Motors isn’t emailing a 3D-print recipe for the updated NEMA 14-50 connector. (On the other hand, could connectivity open up a whole new world of hacking targets?)

Image © FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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