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Tesla Updates Model S Software As a Precaution Against Unsafe Charging 148

Posted by timothy
from the belt-and-suspenders-and-superglue dept.
zlives writes "Tesla Motors has maintained that the most recent fire involving one of its Model S electric vehicles isn't the result of a vehicle or battery malfunction, but the company is still addressing the situation with a software fix, according to Green Car Reports. The California-based automaker has added a software function that automatically reduces the charge current by about 25 percent when power from the charging source fluctuates outside of a certain range, Green Car Reports says, citing the Twitter feed from an Apple employee, @ddenboer, who owns a Model S. You can read the text of the update below."
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Tesla Updates Model S Software As a Precaution Against Unsafe Charging

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    We all know electricity is dangerous. That's why they have those voltage and shock warnings.

    Electric cars are therefore dangerous too.

    Thus the only solution is to ban all dangerous electricity.

    • by Stargoat (658863) <stargoat@gmail.com> on Thursday December 26, 2013 @03:15PM (#45789355) Journal

      If electricity is outlawed, only outlaws and Nikola Tesla will have electricity.

      • by noh8rz10 (2716597)

        100% agreed. Most professionals agree that you should need a license to handle anything above 110V.

        • by Sarten-X (1102295)
          It's not the voltage that kills you.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          Stop shuffling on the carpet NOW.

        • by Teancum (67324)

          100% agreed. Most professionals agree that you should need a license to handle anything above 110V.

          Which must also include the installation and removal of any electrical appliance or apparatus into a receptacle.

        • 100% agreed. Most professionals agree that you should need a license to handle anything above 110V.

          Except that some folk believe 220VAC is safer than 120VAC.

          They say higher voltage is more likely to cause muscles to violently twitch
          causing you to be thrown away before your internal temperature reaches
          125F (for you silly fish).

          As others might chime in it is not the voltage it is the voltage combined with current that kills.
          Two pads soaked in a conductive salt and a modest number of car batteries in series
          will cook you and hardly cause a twitch. It is no longer allowed to do the classic frog
          leg tricks in

  • he he...he said software fix..he he.
  • Tesla is a danger to the prostitute and coke habits of the CEOs and members of board of every Established Car Maker in the world. It should therefore be banned.

    I am glad to see Texas is leading the way in this regard. Y'all don't Don't Mess With Texas!

    http://jalopnik.com/how-texas-absurd-anti-tesla-laws-turn-car-buying-into-1451492195 [jalopnik.com]

    Also: yeeeeeeeHAW!

    • Tesla is a danger to the prostitute and coke habits of the CEOs and members of board of every Established Car Maker in the world

      . . . not if those CEOs buy Tesla: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2013/12/26/gm-ford-tesla/4208273/ [usatoday.com]

      • Re:Tesla is a danger (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning.netzero@net> on Thursday December 26, 2013 @04:32PM (#45789961) Homepage Journal

        They could do a hostile take-over of the company. That would also be something very public and would likely end up with Elon Musk becoming very wealthy indeed and cost literally billions of dollars even at the current market cap.

        The honorable thing, and likely the most economically viable approach at the moment, is for these companies to simply double down and really push forward with competing vehicles. Then again, sometimes major companies lack the imagination in terms of how to actually build a competing product.

    • Re:Tesla is a danger (Score:4, Informative)

      by Megane (129182) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @05:23PM (#45790465) Homepage
      I hate to break the news to you, but Ohio is out-doing Texas. [jalopnik.com]
  • It's not a bug it's a feature!
    • by scotts13 (1371443)

      Correct, it's a feature. As I read it, the software was optimized for fast charging, a major customer concern. The patch doubtless increases charging time, but is more forgiving of non-optimal power delivery. A "charges slower / blows up more" selector switch would be nice, but not for public perception.

  • Secondary link? (Score:5, Informative)

    by jo7hs2 (884069) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @03:24PM (#45789457) Homepage
    Here is the actual article, not the article about the article... http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1089292_tesla-updates-software-to-cut-charging-if-wiring-may-be-bad [greencarreports.com]
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CanHasDIY (1672858)

      Ugh, greencarreports.com? The more of their articles I read, the more I believe nobody working there has Clue 1 as to how cars actually work.

      Anyone got a link to a source that doesn't suck?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Assuming the fire was caused by undersized wiring in the circuit and not arcing, this "fix" won't do anything until shit's already glowing red hot.
    The *proper* fix would be to redesign the charging circuit to continuously monitor feed impedance.
    But then you'd have idiots screaming that their tesla refuses to charge at full rate because their crappy garage wiring is not to code...

    • by ebno-10db (1459097) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @04:20PM (#45789861)

      The *proper* fix would be to redesign the charging circuit to continuously monitor feed impedance.

      They already do that, by monitoring the voltage drop when the load is applied. That doesn't cover all cases though, because fires are more often caused by high resistance or intermittent junctions. If you get say a 5% voltage drop because of wire resistance it's probably no big deal because the heat dissipation is spread out over the length of the wiring. A similar drop caused by a poor junction might glow because it's concentrated in one spot. I believe that poor junctions often exhibit short term fluctuations because they're loose and intermittent, and that's the additional thing that this software mod looks for.

      • by Spoke (6112)

        They already do that, by monitoring the voltage drop when the load is applied. That doesn't cover all cases though, because fires are more often caused by high resistance or intermittent junctions. If you get say a 5% voltage drop because of wire resistance it's probably no big deal because the heat dissipation is spread out over the length of the wiring. A similar drop caused by a poor junction might glow because it's concentrated in one spot. I believe that poor junctions often exhibit short term fluctuations because they're loose and intermittent, and that's the additional thing that this software mod looks for.

        The real trick is distinguishing short term fluctuations that are caused by a flaky connection from some short term fluctuations caused by other big applicance turning on and off (you know, like an electric range/oven/water-heater/air-conditioner/pool-pump/etc)...

        Arc-Fault-Detection may pick up some of the failure modes that lead to these issues, but when you are pulling 240V/40A to charge the car (9600W) It wouldn't take much of an issue to melt down a receptacle. And it won't pick up a high resistance con

    • They ought to allocate $100 or $200 of the purchase price for a 'free' inspection by a licensed electrician of the main charging location. They could even use it as an opportunity to try to sell charging accessories.
      • by beelsebob (529313)

        Except in the luxury market, they recognise that trying for the upsell is a bunch of annoying bullshit, and that their customers are paying more to avoid it. Though certainly the "free" inspection is a very good plan. That said, they possibly want to avoid the liability for it if it goes wrong (not very luxury of them).

        • by Anonymous Coward

          That said, they possibly want to avoid the liability for it if it goes wrong (not very luxury of them).

          Let the customer pick their preferred licensed electrician and get the payment refunded by bringing the receipt when buying the car or when it is coming in for the first service.

      • I'm surprised that people buying an electric car aren't getting a new circuit installed for charging.

  • by ls671 (1122017) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @03:27PM (#45789475) Homepage

    The California-based automaker has added a software function that automatically reduces the charge current by about 25 percent when power from the charging source fluctuates outside of a certain range,

    When I bought my model S, Tesla advised me against driving around with a wind mill on the roof because "it would cause too much fluctuations". Well, I guess I am safe to do so now.

  • by romanval (556418) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @03:44PM (#45789595)

    Now many home improvements can be a DYI project, but wiring a 240V-50A line is NOT one of those things.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      DYI? Do Yourself It?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Don't YOLO It

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Do Yourself In?
      On a more serious note, a 50A circuit is not rocket surgery if you use copper.
      But for fucks sake don't do alucore unless you know what you are doing and have the proper terminations and tools.

      • by AaronW (33736)

        I paid an electrician to install mine, though in my case I had a 100A circuit run and my main panel replaced and a new meter installed. He ran alucore for the long run with special termination lugs to splice to 2 gauge copper in the garage.

    • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @05:26PM (#45790477) Journal

      Now many home improvements can be a DYI project, but wiring a 240V-50A line is NOT one of those things.

      The HELL it's not. I did the wiring on my home improvement - including upgrading the drop to 200A service - and (unlike my uncle) I'm not a licensed electrician or electrical contractor.

      Here's the drill:
        - Read up on the subject. Use several sources. One should be the electrical code itself.
        - Do some initial planning, then talk to your local code inspectors BEFORE you TAKE OUT THE building permit and start the project, and adjust the plans accordingly
      .
        - Do it WITH a building permit and inspections. (The fee for the permit pays for the inspectors!)
        - Try to get it right, or as right as possible, the first time. Inspectors don't like to find a bunch of problems to be repaired. (It makes them worry that there are more they might have missed.) Fix whatever they spot, don't argue about it. Answer all their questions and be helpful.
        - DON'T use aluminum wire, EVER! Use copper and pay the extra price. (Getting aluminum wiring right is hard, requires special tools, and you can't really tell if you goofed. If you get it wrong, it wil burn you down in a year or a decade.)
        - When the code offers you options, go for the better approach, rather than the corner-cutting way.
        - Look for the UL label (or your country's equivalent) - on EVERYTHING you use.

      Things to remember about the electrical code:
        - The national code is a model. Some cities adopt it verbatim, some with changes, a few roll their own. But the REAL code is the way your inspector interprets it.
        - Be nice and helpful with the inspector. Don't argue. (Feel free to ask what you misunderstood about the code, what you're doing wrong, what the purpose of some fine point is. But don't take TOO much of his time.) He has the authority to shut down your project. Respect that.
        - If you DON'T do it to code, and with a permit and inspections in locations that require it (almost all of 'em), and your house then burns down (even if your work didn't start the fire), your fire insurance can pay you nothing (and keep all the premiums you paid over the years, too.)

      • by vux984 (928602)

        Things to remember about the electrical code:

        Getting an actual copy is harder than it sounds. In my jurisdiction the PDF is $175, if you want the 'handbook' that explains it laymans terms, and the charts and calculators... the package is $325.

        I'm better off hiring a contractor unless I plan to do a lo of DIY electrical projects... just on that alone.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        Good advice, but can ask what your goal is? Clearly it isn't saving money or your valuable time, so are you doing it just for enjoyment? Doesn't it affect your home insurance?

  • by cnkurzke (920042) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @03:45PM (#45789599)

    This is a good thing.

    I got the 100Amp High ower Wall Charger with mine, and this puppy needs some serious juice!
    When i got the car, i used my old "Welder" outlet in the garage, which supposedly was rated for 30 Amps. Of course noone ever was drawing full load from this for long periods of time before people had EVs.
    Even my 30A welder only pulls PEAK 30 amp, and not more than a few minutes at a time.

    Once i plugged in the Tesla and charging at 30A, the plug got VERY hot, to the point where i was uncomfortable with it, and i manually throttled it back to 18A.
    (My default the car will charge at 80% of the rated capacity, so a 30A outlet would charge at 26A)

    I could imagine that if left unattended, and not watched over by a curious EE nerd, this would have ended badly.

    For the 100A charger i ran 2Gauge wire (That's about as thick as your average garden hose!)
    And even the 2Gauge get's noticeably warm at 80A sustained charging.

    In the meantime i have been to many friends and family where i "plugged in" (or helped them install their own chargers) and I've seen some shoddy wiring in garages!
    Most people use a Dryer outlet "rated" for 30A, but really only good for ~15.
    And then for good measure they throw in a 40A wall plate connector.

    The tesla charger only recognizes the plug, and - assumes if there is a 40A plug it can suck 40A out of it.
    When that has been DIY installed on top of a 20A wiring..... bzzzz we have a problem!

    So, hopefully the continuous line voltage monitoring will help a bit, and protect people from their own shitty wiring!

    • by mlts (1038732)

      I wonder how well the charger would handle a 120VAC, 50 amp circuit. This has two legs that give 50 amps each and 120VAC to neutral... or the legs can be used directly for 240VAC. This circuit is a fairly common one for RVs.

      • by AaronW (33736)

        The Tesla charging cord that comes with the car comes with a NEMA 14-50 adapter so the car can charge at most RV hookups. The neutral line is not hooked up so it just uses 240v/40A. It will only draw 80% of the rated current since continuous usage is supposed to be limited to 80% of capacity in the US.

      • by cnkurzke (920042)

        This is actually one of the "Default" Plugs that come with the mobile charger: NEMA 6-50 (http://shop.teslamotors.com/products/nema-6-50)

        The mobile charger uses the two 120 legs for a 240V charge voltage.

        Unfortunately this is often "retro-fitted" over a 30A dryer outlet, or people use stupid stuff like "dryer Outlet Adapters": https://www.google.com/search?q=dryer+outlet+adapter [google.com]
        THAT's where the problems start.
        Unfortunately there is no good way for a car to recognize the hacked, butchered and abused wiring

        • by mlts (1038732)

          On RV related websites, "dryer receptacles" are a chief cause of magic smoke loss in people's rigs. That, or a rushjob done by an electrician who just had both legs wired up instead of one leg and neutral. Even a master electrician might end up things wrong, so it can't hurt to pull out the multimeter and check oneself.

          One of the few ways RV-ers have to reliably tell is if they have a portable EMS like from Progressive or another brand. It is smart enough to notice undervoltage or overvoltage and safely

    • I got the High Power Wall charger too but had Tesla's recommended electrician install it in our garage. They had to come out to perform an update to charge at the full 80 amps but other than that its been no trouble at all. I've only noticed that the cord leading to the card get's slightly warm but certainly not hot. I dial it back to 60A unless I'm in a hurry because I suspect its easier on the batteries.

      Either way I wouldn't recommend a non-electrician to do this without a building permit. If there was
    • This isn't an issue specific to Tesla vehicles, but it is something that any electric vehicle owner should be aware of and an issue in general for home electrical distribution systems.

      The first house I lived in when I got married had the entire house on a single 20 amp circuit (supposedly installed by a professional, but I'm not sure which decade with the tar & cotton wiring I ended up spotting as I went through the attic), and the house I grew up in was only rated with the fuse box for 40 amps (again the whole house, but there were multiple circuits with that house). Even the house I live in at the moment is only rated for a maximum of 100 amps, and I'm not really sure how close to that limit I care to push the issue even though the wiring gauge does look sufficient for those power requirements. I know some new home construction can be rated for as high as 200 amps or more, but it is something to be discussing with contractors when the house is being built currently in terms of planning for potential needs of future power needs. IMHO it really needs to be added into the NEC (National Electrical Code) as assuming something like a stead base power load of 40 amps in a standard socket should be found in a garage or something like that.

      That doesn't even get into the neighborhood power distribution systems that would need to be updated in a serious manner if electric vehicles became quite common. It most definitely will become a major issue for electric utility companies in the future if these vehicles become popular.

      • by blindseer (891256)

        I doubt that power distribution would have to be updated in a "serious" manner if electric cars become common. They will no doubt need updating, as they always do, since people's needs will change over time. Even if electric cars become popular the typical lifetime of a passenger car is something like ten years in the USA. I doubt electric cars becoming "popular" would mean every car is replaced by electric. Even if they were it'd be ten years for the change to happen.

        The other thought that came to mind

    • I find I have the same problem if I use a generic USB charger with mine. My two solutions are either use the charger that came in the box, or use a really long USB cable and plug it into my PC. I actually have a 400ft USB cable that just about stretches from my work PC, down the stairs, out of the office, past security, into the parking lot, and to where I normally park my car. But I have to make sure I'm at work early or I lose that space and have to park further away, preventing me from charging during t

    • by edbob (960004)
      The operating temperature rating of the cable would likely mean that it is perfectly safe, but would be uncomfortable to hold. For example, THHN cable is rated for 90C. The cable itself is safe (the insulation won't melt), but I sure wouldn't want to hold it. Hopefully, the 2 AWG cable you are using is at least rated for 75C, otherwise it is likely undersized according to the 2011 NEC.
  • Make no mistake in evaluation of the result. Tesla developed and deployed an evolutionary step in the DNA of Adaptive Chargers. Do we "know" if other EV chargers have or had similar code? We may never know due to the sad facts of Closed Source and those corporate cultures still clinging to it. EV charging is inherently either a dumb load or an algorithmic ADAPTIVE& Smart- citizen of the grid.
    • EV charging is inherently either a dumb load or an algorithmic ADAPTIVE& Smart- citizen of the grid.

      The problem is to be an "algorithmic ADAPTIVE& Smart- citizen of the grid." requries information the charger simply doesn't have. There are a handful of clues, frequency tells you about total load vs generation on the grid as a whole but tells you nothing about local conditions. Volt drop may give you some clue as to how stressed the local system is but it won't tell you about a cable that is short but thin coming up towards it's maximum load and it's very likely to give false positives (where the car t

  • So is this an OTA update, or does Tesla send owners some sort of flash drive to do the update with? TFA fails to say.

    • by mythosaz (572040)

      Tesla software updates are OTA, yes.

      • by AaronW (33736)

        Yes. I was amazed at how fast this came out. I was notified that the OTA update was downloaded within a couple of days of the incident that sparked this. I have had a number of OTA updates, many of which added new features and fixed bugs.

      • Tesla software updates are OTA, yes.

        OK, now we have that established...

        Am I the only one who has serious reservations about buying a car (read: 1.5 tons of rolling steel death) that can be 'updated,' remotely, without the owner's explicit permission?

        Please tell me that the vehicle at least has to be stationary before the updates start a-flowin'.

        • by mythosaz (572040)

          Early production cars have received several software updates already. (My car arrived in late February with version 4.2). I was looking forward to my first update--if for no other reason than to experience first-hand another step into the future of car ownership.

          Sure enough, just five weeks after taking delivery, I got in the car one morning last week to find a message on the touchscreen: software update v4.3 was available.

          The message suggested I schedule the update for 2 am the next morning. The car needs to be parked and turned off for about two hours to complete the wireless download, which uses the 3G cellphone network.

          So, uh, yeah, you get ASKED if you want to update, and the car needs parked and turned off (standby).

          • Early production cars have received several software updates already. (My car arrived in late February with version 4.2). I was looking forward to my first update--if for no other reason than to experience first-hand another step into the future of car ownership.

            Sure enough, just five weeks after taking delivery, I got in the car one morning last week to find a message on the touchscreen: software update v4.3 was available.

            The message suggested I schedule the update for 2 am the next morning. The car needs to be parked and turned off for about two hours to complete the wireless download, which uses the 3G cellphone network.

            So, uh, yeah, you get ASKED if you want to update, and the car needs parked and turned off (standby).

            Nice to know Tesla's not going to be doing firmware updates while you're hauling ass down the freeway, but nothing in that story indicates that installing the updates are optional. "The message suggested I schedule the update for 2 am the next morning" doesn't mean he had a choice in whether or not it was installed, but rather when.

            My two real issues with this:

            - If Tesla can send info to your car wirelessly, then it stands to reason they can receive information from it as well. Backseat drivers suck.

            - If Te

            • by mythosaz (572040)

              In a worst-case scenario, an attacker pushes the "check for updates" bit after they've stolen the Tesla server in DNS, and bricks a bunch of cars.

              If that's what's keeping you from electric, I guess you're going to have to stay driving gas.

              • In a worst-case scenario, an attacker pushes the "check for updates" bit after they've stolen the Tesla server in DNS, and bricks a bunch of cars.

                That's a bad-case scenario, but I wouldn't call it 'worst.'

                Imagine someone compromising the whole system, and, say, cycling the batteries until they overhead and rupture. Or over-riding the braking system and locking the throttle at 100%.

                On every single Tesla on the planet, simultaneously.

                If that's what's keeping you from electric, I guess you're going to have to stay driving gas.

                It's probably going to keep me in older vehicles; even gas car makers are starting to get into the whole 'let's put shitloads of remotely-accessible software in these things' mentality.

                No, what's keeping me out of electric

        • Brings to mind the apple update recently which reversed the meaning of mouse wheel clicks.

    • by Teancum (67324)

      The Tesla vehicles also come equipped with a USB port (more than one if I"m not mistaken).... assuming that for some reason you don't have access to a mobile cell phone tower or something like that. I don't think it is standard for Tesla to mail out physical thumb drives or anything like that, but I'm sure customer support can help get the necessary software from a variety of distribution systems.

  • by Loki_1929 (550940) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @04:17PM (#45789837) Journal

    So the basic idea is that if your power source is terrible (i.e. shoddy wiring in your home), then pulling too much through it could expose that problem via a fire. That isn't a problem with the car, but rather a problem with the substandard wiring. If Tesla merely responds with "it isn't us and isn't our problem", we'll invariably hear of more house fires and the Model S will be blamed.

    So they develop a change that detects potentially substandard wiring from the symptom of poor quality power entering the vehicle. It then cuts the draw significantly in that case to reduce the risk of said substandard wiring causing a fire (notice the wiring would still be at fault). Suddenly, because Tesla has released a "fix", their car must have been at fault all along!

    This is an absurd level of idiocy and quite frankly, if it continues and eventually sinks Tesla, then we deserve to choke to death on the smog of our own stupidity's making. It's really remarkable how terribly dumb the top of the bell curve is. All evidence points directly toward the future envisioned in the film Idiocracy.

  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @04:43PM (#45790081) Homepage Journal

    It is exactly the sort of rushed software hack which results in subsequent bug reports.

  • by roc97007 (608802) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @04:56PM (#45790235) Journal

    ...if only to see the README accompanying that patch. "Apply this patch if your Tesla roadster has ever caught fire." No, wait. Um, "This patch makes the very unlikely event of your Tesla roadster burning down your garage even more unlikely." But it'll be probably something nebulous and lawyer-proof like "This patch enhances the charging software to further protect your house wiring."

    • "This patch enhances the charging software to further protect your house wiring."

      Ensures a cool and enjoyable energy consumption experience.

      • by roc97007 (608802)

        "This patch enhances the charging software to further protect your house wiring."

        Ensures a cool and enjoyable energy consumption experience.

        "Share and enjoy."

  • by Greyfox (87712)
    They're just setting the catchOnFire flag to be false in all cases. Someone included the flag at some point because they thought catching on fire was something the user might occasionally want. They can't just remove it because many other features of the interface are coupled to it and would have to be completely redesigned.

    Fortunately the explodeViolently flag has managed to stay off in most cases so far...

    • Someone included the flag at some point because they thought catching on fire was something the user might occasionally want.

      Hopefully it came with a user warning like "do not use if arson is illegal in your area".

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