A video published on Sunday offers a glimpse of a future where software updates downloaded over wifi change the functionality of our cars. Case in point: Tesla’s most recent software version include making the Model X’s falcon-wing doors open and close faster than before. Sure, it’s like less than two seconds. But the future arrives in incremental changes like this one.
Tesla periodically releases over-the-air updates for its vehicles. The newest version of its software was released on September 22. The release notes mention improvements to the vehicle’s music player, navigation tool, and the company’s controversial Autopilot feature — no mention is made of making the doors a little faster.
Yet this new video shows that the doors used to take 6.6 seconds to open; after they update they take 5.1 seconds. See the difference here:
As vehicles come to rely more on software, whether it’s for basic tasks like opening doors or more complicated endeavors like driving without human assistance, small updates like this will become more commonplace as updating the apps on your phone. People will no longer expect cars to be the same as they were the day they were driven off the lot; they might not even expect them to be identical from month to month. That’s a big shift from the buy-it-and-you’re-done paradigm that ruled automobiles for decades.
This also highlights Tesla’s ability to change aspects of its vehicles without telling their owners. The company previously made a change similar to this one when it used a software update to give its cars better battery life. These updates had positive effects on their users, but Tesla’s secrecy also offers cause for concern about its control over its vehicles.
There’s also no guarantee that software updates will always bring good things to car owners. For example: Lexus released a software update in June that accidentally broke its vehicle’s GPS, climate control, and radio systems. As software becomes even more important to vehicles, problems like that could end up making people wish they could go back to more primitive cars.
But this is one genie that won’t be stuffed back into a bottle. Cars are computers now, and even things that seem like they should be mechanically controlled — like Tesla’s doors and batteries —can be modified via software. It can change at any time, for any reason, and it’s not always clear what form that change will take. Buckle up, because the future of vehicle ownership is going to be wild and unpredictable. Tesla’s owners seem to be OK with that. Will the rest of the world?