v8 USB Media Player Bug List

Update 10/25/2016:  Another owner extensively tested the USB media formats and ID3 tagging with v8.  The very detailed report is available on TMC.

The following post was written by a guest blogger, who is known as supratachophobia on on the Tesla Motors Club Forum (TMC) and lead the effort to bring back the NEMA 14-30 adapter.  Working with the direct feedback of dozens of other owners, supratachophobia compiled an extensive and prioritized list of both bugs and enhancements of the media player as it pertains to USB audio. Content compiled, thoughts composed, and article sent in by supratachophobia, edited by Owner, which is my TMC handle.

 

Introduction

First, let me say that v8 is a welcome addition to the ongoing software development process in the S (and soon to be the X). The forums all have positive comments in general on autopilot tweaks, additional features, and the overall (but definitely not all) interface improvements. While the general design of the overhauled media interface is an improvement from v7, it seems to be slanted towards those users who primarily stream their music. As such, many of the functions for USB playback have been partially broken or made more difficult to use, particularly when driving. As a result, there are questions as to whether the testing that was done with v8 had a proper sample of those owners that use USB playback as their primary choice for audio.

The USB audio playback is a very popular feature, especially for audiophiles, because it generally produces the highest quality listening experience. In fact, those that purchased the Ultra High Fidelity Sound package did so knowing that they would be playing a large collection (many thousand tracks in fact) of high-quality/lossless audio formats from USB in order that they be able enjoy the highest possible sound fidelity. Tesla works with a broad range of music formats: from the more common MP3, MP4 and AAC (without DRM), as well as formats such as FLAC, AIFF, WAV, WMA and lossless WMA. (Note – we at TMC are not clear what is officially supported by Tesla and would like some clarification).

Streaming radio uses compressed MP3, and streaming Bluetooth compresses both high bitrate MP3 and FLAC data across the connection. Under some circumstances, iPhone AAC may be able to bypass this compression. But only through USB can the audio be lossless and at its highest quality. Many audiophile owners have very large collections (1k – 10k) of tracks on their USB, and 7.1 worked much better for these large libraries. For me personally, USB audio playback was in my list of top 5 reasons for purchasing 2 of these cars.

TMC Forum Discussions

TMC has four large forum discussions currently active (those are just under Model S, there are more under Model X) with regards to how the car now handles USB audio and the lack of testing this particular functionality in the Media app received in the new v8 rollout. Please note, that many of the concerns cataloged below were features that functioned with little to no issue in v7.

As of this writing, the TMC threads have the following number of posts and views:

250+ Posts / 6,000+ Views: Comprehensive USB Bug List

100+ Posts / 3,400+ Views: Media player in 8.0 actually got worse (for local music)

200+ Posts / 7,200+ Views: 8.0 Music Player Unusable

Main v8 Thread / Over 3,500 posts and 265,000+ views so far, with USB audio problems dominating the discussion: Firmware 8.0

8.0 USB Media Player Bug List

The following is a list of specific bugs that have been detected, with as much detail as our end-user base could glean from real-world usage. We have prioritized the list as best as possible in the order presented below.

  1. The 8.0 Media player no longer includes a letter list from A-Z allowing you to search through song, album or artist lists by the first letter. Now the media player shows everything in one gigantic list. Trying to scroll through a list of thousands of items is very dangerous when driving, and does not actually work in practice, see issue 2.
  2. When scrolling a USB list view with several pages of items, the scrolling feature does not work as expected. Any attempt at repeated scrolling gestures are interpreted as a click into a folder. When you try to back out of that, or any folder, the interface takes you to the top of the previous list, instead of the point in the list where you entered.
  3. Album tracks are being played alphabetically instead of by track number. This playback is unpleasant when listening to an album, but a horrible problem when listening to audiobooks.
  4. “Search Anything” does not search anything, it searches everything except USB media. Please allow search (both via text entry and voice) to include USB media and a priority option to USB playback (if results are found) at the top of the results list. (Rumored to have been resolved in 8.21 – thank you)
  5. When media is paused, the system should note the point in the recording. When resuming play, the system should start from that point. Today, when the driver leaves/returns to the car or resumes playback, the result is unpredictable. Sometimes the track will reset to the beginning, which is especially annoying when listening to an audiobook or podcast. Sometimes when the player is on pause, and the driver re-enters the car, the media turns itself on again.
  6. The shuffle feature “on” is not predictable or persistent and turns off at random times. (Changing between USB sources, and during entry/exit of the vehicle.)
  7. The shuffle feature itself does not properly randomize. The same sets of songs are repeated in the same order when shuffle is engaged/re-engaged.
  8. When looking at a list of items under an artist name or browsing a folder, the list view is a simple alphabetical display of all items intermixed, such as when using a UNIX ‘ls’ command. In v7, the system always had albums, which are folders, at the top of the list followed by any single tracks.
  9. The car needs to maintain Track Title, Disc, Album Artist, and Album Title in all the lists, presentations, and sorts to avoid difficulties with “Greatest Hits”, multi-disc audiobooks, and boxed multi-disc sets.
  10. Some scans take an abnormal amount of time. The forums have no clear conclusion what causes this problem: read speed of USB media, number of tracks, or size of data. The current workaround is to turn off power-saving mode in the car. Some owners report the USB sticks with 6,000 or more tracks now take two hours to get to 80% complete.
  11. Sometimes the Bass, Mid, and Treble settings are not saved overnight. Again, TMC is unsure if the problem is triggered by changing USB audio sources. We were wondering if the intended feature was to allow different equalizer settings for audio types on different USB sources. For example, audiobooks would have a different profile for music. If so, we would welcome this feature, but would like it documented in the release notes.
  12. Spaces in the USB volume name are represented by the ASCII value “\x20” and not a blank space. For example “Fix These Bugs Please” is written as “Fix\x20These\x20\Bugs\x20Please”.
  13. Album Art is still broken for some users. In this area, we would really like some clear documentation of what is supported. Some owners rarely see their album art for unknown reasons. For an album with multiple artists, the media player should display the album art if the song is not populated.

Enhancement Requests

  1. The ability to find new matching music (and add it as the next track in the queue) based upon elements from the current song being played. For example if Michael Jackson’s Thriller is playing the track Billie Jean, you could tap on the ‘artist’. The media player would then find a different track, by Michael Jackson, and make it the next track to play. Now if you pressed the text of the ‘album’ name, Thriller, then the next song to be queued would be from that album. And finally, if something like the song Smooth Criminal was playing, tapping the song title would go and find that song by another artist, for example, the version done by Alien Ant Farm.
  2. The ability to play an entire hierarchical folder. The first entry inside every folder should be a button option to play everything in that folder including loose items and all items in folders within folders. This feature would be very useful for folders that include sub-genres.
  3. The ability to bookmark a set of exact places in an audio track for resuming later. Bookmarking is a critical feature for both podcasts and audiobooks played through USB. Currently it is very challenging to try to find the correct space in an hour long or more podcast to resume listening. This feature would be able to store at minimum of 3-5 bookmarks and be found next to the “Favorites” and “Recent” tabs. The selection of a bookmark would take you not only back to the timestamp, but also to the “album” so that the book could resume at the next track. The shuffle status, on or off, should be restored to what it was as well, when the bookmark was made.
  4. When displaying a set of recently played items, this list should remember the playlist context of that item. For example, playing song 5 from album X, selecting song 5 from the recent list should remember that the person was listening to album X in its entirety. This mechanism should also work when song 5 was part of a playlist entitled “Foggy Morning Drive”, and pick up playing the rest of the music on the playlist “Foggy Morning Drive”.
  5. Some owners would like support for the m3u format, which has always been the most popular playlist format. M3u is currently recognized by every major media player on the market, including almost every other vehicle that does MP3 playback.
  6. The support of gapless playback for lossless audio formats (AAC and FLAC).

8.0 USB Improvements

  1. We generally really like the simplistic aspects of the media interface and see it as an improvement over 7.1.
  2. The album artwork from the ID3 tag is displayed most of the time. But we are curious what the size limitation is here as many owners are having mixed results.
  3. The name of the USB volumes are now recognized and displayed.

Video

I also made a video of my personal likes from the use of an Empeg for 12 years. I found a lot of it’s functions to be invaluable when listening to MP3 audio in the car.

Conclusions

The 8.0 software seems to be a nicer interface for playing music. The dual column scrolling and the Now Playing screen utilize the screen real-estate much better and more completely. But there are several opportunities to improve in the areas where USB playback challenges were left untouched or newly introduced. We hope these will be quickly addressed by Tesla seeing that with the ever-growing ownership base, more and more will come to use USB playback as their primary audio source as well.

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8.0 Update

I have a classic Tesla.  A classic Tesla is the euphemism for a Tesla Model S without the autopilot sensors.  The new 8.0 software has three annoying issues for my usage:  reduced USB media support, automatic map zooming, and the challenges to have the camera on all the time.  At times I feel like the Tesla software team does not seem to realize how people use their car and do not implement and test for these situations.  Tesla has eliminated previous functionality with the 8.0 software update.

Camera Disappearance

With 8.0 it is impossible when switching between apps to maintain the camera on.  Each app now has a default position.  Some apps override the top position, others override the bottom position.  The driver cannot configure this behavior or change it.

I always drive with my camera on.  I have since I first got the Tesla 3 1/2 years ago.  The vision through the rear view mirror is so limited because the back window visibility is so small.  When you turn your head, you can’t see much out of the back windows, so the safest way to drive is primarily depending upon the camera and side mirrors.

When I get in the car in a busy parking lot, I always first check the camera for cars, children, and  pedestrians before switching into neutral.  Sometimes I wait a while before the situation clears before moving into reverse, so I want the camera on right when I get into the car in the lower screen.

camerafixed

Calling the Tesla Mothership to Report Camera Issue

I also live in an area that is frequented and at times congested by bicycles.  Unfortunately a few of these bicyclists do not obey the rules of the road, and when driving I need to be very cognizant of their behavior.  I can’t really do that without the camera on, and do not want any app to override the camera.  If I choose to have a full screen app, I may want to override the camera but I rarely want to have a full screen app.  The older software occasionally would override the camera in the lower window, but now I am forced to frequently flip and manipulate windows on a daily basis.

USB Media

I am personally not a big fan of streaming.  I have used it a number of times including a three month trial period.  I find though when listening to a stream, I run into a lot of music I don’t really care for, and then turn it off when it plays something I don’t like.  I have very eclectic tastes, and these algorithms don’t seem to be able to figure out what I might like.  I have the same issue with Netflix suggestions. I also like to go to very remote places where cell service is non-existent, so streaming is often useless.

So I stick with my large collection of music primarily though my USB stick.  As many other Tesla owners have complained about there is no longer a way to find music through an alphabetical sort.  Now all your music is in one gigantic list that you must scroll through.  This feature existed before and was removed with 8.0.

davids

Just a Gigantic List of Artists to Scroll Through

Others have voiced many other complaints about the media player, and some owners are quite upset. My usage model is pretty simple, I just generally play an album in its entirety, listen to an audiobook, listen to a podcast from my phone, or check the news on a NPR station.   I don’t have the time or energy to make playlists or switch music around at any frequency.

Automatic Map Zooming

I really dislike the auto zoom algorithm of the maps.  I have a sixth sense of direction and rarely get lost.  I use maps and navigation for three purposes: find new places I have never been before, estimate the amount of travel time, and watch for traffic problems.  Unlike most people, I do not like turn by turn directions or Waze.  I turn the voice directions off completely, and primarily rely upon the map orientation to find my way around.  So I almost always want the map at a full zoom mode, and adjust it manually to fit my needs.

In 8.0, the map now automatically zooms itself in when it decides to.  Yesterday I was in the East Bay heading north west to a new place close to Berkeley.  I turned on navigation because I had never been to this address and I wanted to choose between the often congested freeway or a scenic route as shown below.

eastbay.jpg

Watching Traffic Through the Busy East Bay

The map before I began driving immediately zoomed into the local street view, that I did not need.

img_4403

Please, Please Do Not Needlessly Zoom in on the Map When Not Asked

That information is available on the dashboard, and if I wanted to look at that on the big screen, I can manually zoom in.  I can’t maintain a wider picture of the map; if I zoom out again, it will zoom back in again.

Conclusion

These three issues with 8.0 are not major issues, but they are not minor issues either.  These three issues are just my personal concerns, and other drivers have their own dislikes.  I don’t like the Tesla software is not backward compatible.  They should not be taking away features that the user base has come to rely upon.

I have called in two of the three issues before writing this article.  I wanted to make sure that my facts were accurate, and I also wanted to report to Tesla that these problems to Tesla directly.

2016 Shareholder Highlights

IMG_0338.jpg

Elon Musk and JB Straubel Talking About the AC Propulsion Prototype Car

I attended in person the almost four hour shareholders meeting in Mountain View, CA.  This meeting was more of a Tesla history lesson than a shareholders meeting.  At times I was very bored as I have been following Tesla since 2007, and a lot of the information was unnecessarily long.  The large recognition of a variety of Tesla employees was nice to see as Tesla is not just Elon. There were a few interesting tidbits during the history lesson and the 30 minutes of Q&A.

Model 3 Supercharging Fees

Elon stated the Model 3 will have a fee to use the superchargers.   The pricing model is unknown and could be a simple upfront fee or a pay per use model.  The 60kWh version of the Model S had a simple $2,000 fee to enable supercharging.

Model X Regrets

Elon admitted that the Model X was over engineered.  He regretted not launching a simpler Model X and following up future versions of the car with these new features.  He also admitted to a lot of problems with the falcon wing doors, and that the remaining issues are software related for a various corner cases when the doors should or should not open.

I really liked that Elon acknowledged this mistake;  I am much more comfortable with honest leaders who both recognize and publicly admit errors.  I also think that if the Model X had a simpler base version with standard doors and standard seats, a lot more vehicles would have been sold.

Model S and X as Technology Leaders

The Model S and Model X will always be the technology leaders and will be continually improved.

Building the Machines that Build the Machine

Elon also demonstrated a huge amount of interest in building the machines that build the machine. He used the analogy of integrated circuit (IC) design to car factory design.  When designing an IC, the designer and software make tradeoffs between speed, size, and power consumption of a chip.  The process is very complex today as the individual components and wires are extremely small.  During this analogy, Elon referred to both the slow rate that cars are leaving the factory and the number of layers in an IC.  With these references, I can speculate that Elon thinks that there are ways the factory robotic process can be combined.  Very simplistic ideas could be that multiple robots are working on a car at the same time; perhaps one robot is above the car, another below the car and a third on the side of the car.

The New Model S Nose

On display at front was an older Model S, a new Model S with the new nose, and a Model X.  I don’t really have a strong opinion about the new nose.  From all the Model Xs I have seen in California, I have found that the new nose looks better on some colors than others.

Nosecomparison.jpg

 

Autopilot Test

My Model S was in for service again to fix the long term intermittent problem of my bluetooth failing.  I requested a loaner with autopilot. This service visit I received a P85D with autopilot and drove it for over 100 miles in a variety of conditions.

Autopilot currently consists of four separate features:  automatic steering (auto steer) on freeways and highways, automatic lane changing, traffic aware cruise control, and automatic parallel parking.  The auto steer and auto lane changing are the most amusing and entertaining.  I found auto steer to be a bit buggy and not particularly useful.  Traffic aware cruise control is probably the most useful feature of the bunch and could be really great for someone with a nasty commute.  Auto parking worked well but only under specific conditions.  I’ll talk about each of these four features in some detail.

Auto steer

To turn on auto steer, you pull the cruise control stick towards you twice in a row on an appropriate highway.  Auto steer follows the lane markings on a highway and attempts to keep the car in the center of the lane.  Because it follows the lane markings, it really only works well on freeways or highways with uninterrupted center lines.

I tried auto steer in a variety of conditions.  On the freeway it worked quite nicely in the center and middle lanes.  In the far right lane, auto steer’s performance was weaker because many times the far right lane markings were weaker.  A couple of times it jerked the car over to the right on the freeway.  The software seems to handle an exiting lane fine and stayed in the far right lane.

In California, we are finally experiencing a lot of rain as the El Niño weather pattern has started.  Several times during moderate rain on the freeway the auto steer turned off.

IMG_3332

Auto Steer Turned Itself Off in These Rainy Conditions

I did a fair amount of driving also on “highways” – two lane roads through the mountains and along the coast.  Where the road was gentle and consistent, auto steer did fine.  For other highway driving, auto steer was a challenge.  A couple of times the pavement line on the right hand side disappeared, and it jerked to the right.  When a left turn lane appeared, the car got confused.  One very long reasonable U shaped curve, the software got quite confused and drove the left tires at one point over the center marker.

After a days worth of driving I got pretty comfortable with auto steer and allowed the wheel to move my hands around, which at first felt a little strange.  I think I would only use auto steer on real freeway driving where there are consistent lane markers.  In some ways I think auto steer is a technology looking for a problem.  When I am driving on a freeway, I do not mentally steer, and I am already driving on “auto pilot”.  Having the car auto steer on, I found took more attention than normal.  I found this feature to be quite entertaining but not particularly useful in this simple form.

Auto Lane Change

I experimented with auto lane change a number of times and it worked flawlessly.  It is super easy to use, just turn on your turn signal indicator and it will change lanes for you.  I never did try it in conditions where there was a car in another lane as that felt dangerous.  Again I’m not sure I need this feature.

Traffic Aware Cruise Control

On the other hand, I really liked traffic aware cruise control.  Since the car’s sensors’ detect a car ahead of you, it calculates the correct speed to maintain a safe distance from the other car.  I don’t use cruise control a lot because of this exact problem.  When I have conventional cruise control on and another car appears in front of me, its often too much of a hassle to adjust the speed.  But this traffic aware cruise control solves this problem beautifully.  I can see how useful this would be if you are unfortunately stuck in commute traffic.

Fortunately, I do not commute, and even when I did work my longest commute was 15 minutes.  When I am stuck in stop and go traffic, I really do not enjoy driving, so I would like this feature.  My only minor complaint is that I would like to adjust the distance a bit.  I like to keep larger distances than normal from other drivers.  Perhaps that is wasting space on the road, but I found with traffic aware cruise control, I felt a bit like I was tailgating.

Auto Park

I confess I am not a good parallel parker and avoid it.  When I do parallel park, I typically find spots at the beginning or end of a line as they are so much easier to get in and out of.  Now that my mirrors change positions in reverse, I can safely avoid any curb rash on my wheels.

Auto Parallel Parking is a feature I do like but in the first release it is quite limited.  You must be on a street with sidewalks and be parking in between two parked cars.  I found several places I wanted to try this feature, but in my area 75% of the parking opportunities did not match those conditions.  When I did find an appropriate place, the car parked itself very nicely.  It did allow me to parallel park in front of a fire hydrant though.

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Beautiful Parallel Parking Job With the Right Conditions

P85D

I enjoyed driving the P85D.  This time I could feel that the handling was significantly improved over my S85.  Because the roads were so wet, the car did slip when I floored it in ludicrous mode.  But I did enjoy the increased acceleration.  I do not know if I would spent the significant extra dollars though to buy the increased acceleration.  Where I live there are just so few times when I could enjoy it.

Summary

Autopilot costs $2,500 if purchased with the car.  The parking sensors themselves are now standard equipment with the car.  I really like traffic aware cruise control and would likely buy this package primary for that feature.  But I’m not compelled to upgrade my Model S for the auto pilot package.

Release 7.0 for Classic Teslas

Classic Teslas like mine do not have the hardware that enables the autopilot features.  The new software release that all cars received last Friday works for both the Classic Teslas and the ones with the autopilot hardware, which costs $2,500.  This release has a few significant highlights and unfortunately a couple of lowlights for Classic Cars such as mine.

1. The look and feel has changed in several small ways.  Some of the fonts and style has changed a little bit with the current fashionable flat 2-D icons.  When Apple first released their 2-D icons, I missed the older ones, but I largely think this is just a current style trend that will eventually change again.

Much More Useful Display of Driving Stats Since Beginning a Trip and Last Charge

Much More Useful Display of Driving Stats Since Beginning a Trip and Last Charge

2. For long road trips, the information on the dashboard for energy usage is much clearer.  Now instead of looking at a strange screen with Trip A and Trip B monitors, you are looking at the information since the last time you started the car on top, and since your last charge below.  On long road trips when I was running dangerously low on energy, I would always bring up the Trip screen to get this information since last charge.   The Trip A and B information is still available on the 17” screen if people plan their energy use that way.

I like this change because I can monitor how much energy I have used since my last charge very succinctly.  I like the kWh usage number and I can easily mentally compare that to my 85kWh battery and compare my Wh/mi usage to the 300 Wh/mile standard.  Here in the hills of California, I never average as low as 300 Wh/mile.  Only on some very flat freeways can the average be maintained at that low level.

Curb Rash Preventer With Automatic Window Tilt in Reverse

Curb Rash Preventer With Automatic Window Tilt in Reverse

2. Tesla has finally found a solution to my curb rash! Now the rear view mirrors adjust downwards while backing up.  I have only tried using this feature once but now I imagine I can parallel park much nicer even without auto-pilot. Of course, I could have done that manually in the past, but I couldn’t imagine messing with my mirrors every time before and after parallel parking.  I’m really excited about this feature because for some reason I’ve never been a great parallel parker.  In my entire life I just have never lived anywhere where I parked parallel with any frequency.

After visiting so many superchargers, I’m really good at backing up into tight spaces though.

Dash Display on Left and Center

Dash Display on Left and Center

 

3. The center of the dash has grown and changed to accommodate an area for the autopilot in the middle of the speedometer.   For those without autopilot the area is a bit excessive.  The car will have indication lights such as when it is braking as in the picture, but typically this information does not change much and can be a bit annoying.  Owners with red cars have reported they cannot really see the red indicator lights as it blends too much with their car color on the display.

To make space for the larger center display, the battery level was moved to the left and the date, time and temperature removed from the standard dash set up.  You can see the time at the far upper right of the 17” screen, and the date through the calendar app.

To appease those of us who may want to have an easier glance at the time, they added a new clock widget.  The response to the clocks widget is that it is almost universally esthetically displeasing.  And with all of that space, why can’t the date and day of the week also be listed?

Upper Left of 17" Screen Includes Lock / Unlock Button

Upper Left of 17″ Screen Includes Lock / Unlock Button

4.  Tesla added a tiny lock and unlock button on the top row of the 17” screen.

I like this improvement because it took a while to fiddle around the 17” screen to unlock the doors for someone who was trying to get into the car.   They moved the outside temperature reading up here too along with a new button for bringing up the charge screen.

I think the temperature needs to go back to the dash permanently.  I am a bit obsessive about the outside temperature.  I adjust the inside temperature control a lot depending upon the outside temperature and whether or not it is sunny.  This fall has been so warm here in California.  Today is the first day of the year that even feels like fall not summer so I’ve been watching the temperature this year a bit obsessively.

The new charge button brings up the charge screen, which to me is a bit strange.  I am always fiddling a bit to find the unlock charge port button more than anything else on that screen. I’d prefer that this lightning bolt just unlocked the charge port.

Other Details

The release also includes a few other minor changes on the dash board that I will not mention such as a full screen control of the media player.  There are also some efficiency improvements but I have not driven the car much yet to notice any differences.  Newer cars also get a full four wheel tire pressure monitoring sensors that will report on each four tires.  My car’s vintage is unfortunately too old.  I don’t know if there are any bug fixes to the bug challenged trip planner.

All in all, I think 7.0 is an improvement even with a few trivial mistakes on the UI.

Road Trip Testing the New Trip Planner

Last week I went from my home in the San Francisco Bay Area to Ashland, Oregon and back in my Tesla with software version 6.2.4.153.  I do this trip twice a year as I really enjoy the plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival — where 2/3 are not Shakespeare plays — along with the wonderful food and ambiance in the town itself.

On the way up, I drove a circuitous route through the Petaluma supercharger and experimented with the new trip planning feature, and on the way back I explicitly tested the feature.  The trip planner technically is still in Beta and was added to help us plan our trips and reduce range anxiety.  Unfortunately, the software still has quite a few problems that inadvertently caused me some minor range anxiety.

Tesla divides the software into three different features:  trip planner, range assurance, and navigation.  The trip planner helps you determine how much time to charge at each supercharger.  The range assurance software lets you know that you potentially may be running out of energy while driving.  The navigation software has been part of the software since the Model S began shipping.  To the end user, all three of these pieces of software have high degrees of interaction.  This review of the trip planner software inevitably discusses all the software in totality.

Informal Testing

On the way to Oregon, I stopped in at the newer Petaluma supercharger and decided to drive up through Calistoga and avoid some of the very boring Interstate 5 (I-5) driving.  Prior to the trip, I planned the journey in some detail using evtripplanner.com.  The total miles between the Petaluma supercharger and the Corning supercharger on I-5 is 165 miles, which should use up 52.6kWh on my 85 with 21” wheels in typical nice California weather.

In Petaluma when I selected the Corning supercharger, the navigation system really wanted me to go to the Vacaville supercharger first.  I could not overwrite the path as the software does not allow any waypoints on your drive.  Waypoints are intermediate points that you can select to choose between alternative routes.  The Tesla navigation system has a very strong preference for freeways.  By the time I got to Calistoga, the software finally gave up and routed me directly to the Corning supercharger showing I would have a 28% battery upon arrival.

Software Weakness #1  – Navigation System really needs waypoints to allow the user to select alternative routes.

I went for a very nice hike in Robert Lewis Stevenson State Park which is at the summit of a small mountain range.  When I got back, the software was completely confused and reported that it would only have 5% of battery when I got to Corning and that I needed to drive slowly.

Tesla Range Assurance Warning

Tesla Range Assurance Warning

Since I was paying close attention to this new software and have driven cross country in the Tesla, I was not alarmed and realized my problem was likely that the car could not connect to the internet. After driving downhill about 10 miles, the 3G connection finally kicked in and the number shot back up to about 28% battery remaining.

Software Weakness #2  – The trip planner needs to store more information so that in period without internet access, the software does not report incorrect data.

The next day I headed towards Ashland after charging that morning at the Mt. Shasta supercharger.  I was only going to drive to Ashland and stay there and return to the same supercharger.  Because I have done this route a few times in the Tesla, I did not pre-plan my trip to and from the Shasta supercharger beforehand.  I charged the car at Mt. Shasta to what I suspected was “full enough” and not a range charge; I unfortunately did not note the exact amount of charge.

The driving distance between Mt. Shasta and Ashland is only 75 miles and there are a few slower chargers in town.  But I would have dearly loved to have a round trip feature on the trip planner, so I would have known how much I needed to charge in Mt. Shasta.  The elevation change is 1,653 feet so using the number of miles is not sufficient to estimate charging needs.  I did not remember how much I had charged on previous trips.

Software Weakness #3  – The Trip Planner needs a roundtrip feature.  

Ashland

Blink Charger With Almost Unreadable Screen

Blink Charger With Almost Unreadable Screen

Ashland has a few chargers in town, so I decided to stop and try to top off the Tesla at one of  them.  Even if the Tesla software is far from perfect, I do not particularly enjoy dealing with external charging stations.  The stations in Ashland are no exception.  I have charged there once before.  But Ashland is very strict with their parking rules;  I have gotten a ticket in the past for staying about 15 minutes past my four hour allowed time in the same parking lot.

I was a little nervous with the ubiquitous signs stating “Head In Parking Only” when the cord would not reach while parking head in.  The second problem was that I simply could not read the cracked and dirty screen in the direct sunlight.   The third problem was that when I pulled out my Blink charging card, I got the error “Access Denied”.  I incorrectly figured I had enough juice and gave up.

Pavement Where Tesla Suspension Needs to be Raised

Pavement Where Tesla Suspension Needs to be Raised

The hotel I like to stay in Ashland has a terrible entrance to their parking lot.  Under the small outbuilding is a eight car parking garage with a short but steep entrance.  On the pavement are scratch marks from the many cars that scrape the pavement.

I have earlier raised the car in this exact same location, but I figured the car would automatically raise itself.  Unfortunately, the Tesla seemed to have a bad memory and I scraped the car a tiny bit.  I manually raised the suspension, and the screen said “Auto-raising location” after the fact.  As a test, I drove away, lowered the suspension, and re-entered the parking lot but the car did not want to raise itself automatically.

Software Weakness #4  – The auto-raising location detection  or activation does not seem to always take affect where needed.

Tesla Auto Raising Feature Report on the Screen But Not in Reality

Tesla Auto Raising Feature Report on the Screen But Not in Reality

The morning when I was leaving Ashland, I selected the Mt. Shasta supercharger on the map, I realized I did not have enough energy to get to Mt. Shasta and the car wanted to go to the next supercharger to the North.  I decided to top off at the Blink charger.  I backed in and called Blink, who said that particular card was not activated.  I must have used the iphone app the other time I used their system.  The nice feature about superchargers is that they are significantly less complicated.  There are several charging networks with various maps, cards, smartphone apps, cable lengths, charging rates and connector types.  With infrequent use of general charging, these relatively easy differences can feel complicated.  The superchargers are always free and always have the same cable.

The Real “Test”

List of Upcoming Superchargers and Time Needed at Each Stop

List of Upcoming Superchargers and Time Needed at Each Stop

After an unexpected lovely morning charging in Ashland enjoying a late breakfast, I decided to embark on the real test of the Tesla trip planner.  I was going to drive straight home and follow the instructions given by the Trip Planner.  I was not going to take any significant detours other than a quick stop or two right off the freeway where needed.  I decided to do a formal “test” of this new feature.

I was going to visit as many superchargers as needed and charge the exact amount of time listed.

For this journey, the total amount of supercharging would be exactly an hour at three different superchargers:  Mt. Shasta (15 minutes), Corning (25 minutes) and Vacaville (20 minutes).

While driving I watched to see if the numbers changed.  I kept close to the speed limit perhaps exceeding it by up to 5mph.  The test occurred on a Sunday afternoon where I-5 is actually reasonably busy and has a comfortable 70mph speed limit for most of the journey.  For late April the weather was a bit warm in the high 80s but not exceptionally hot for the central valley of California.

Supercharger Mt. Shasta

When I arrived at the Mt. Shasta supercharger I was the only Tesla there.

Charging Progress Screen

Charging Progress Screen

The software does a nice job reporting progress while charging.  It lists how many more minutes you need to charge and also the amount of energy you will have left at the next charging station.  The estimates also include a negative charge, which is a nice feature to monitor while waiting.

I quickly filled up as needed in the 15 minutes of time listed.  I was comfortable with how many miles I had in the battery.  When I am at home, I like to see the amount of energy in the battery listed as a percentage, but when traveling I like to see the distance in rated miles (not ideal), so I can quickly compare it to the amount I would need to travel.

After the 15 minutes were up, the car let me know it was ready to go both on the car’s screen and the Tesla Iphone app.

Driving to Corning

On the way to Corning, I noticed that the software seems to think in 5 minute intervals.  From time to time it seemed to estimate that it might take 20 minutes to charge at one of the superchargers, than it changed its mind to 25 minutes.  I’m not sure why Tesla decided to not make the number of minutes more granular as they are still estimates.

Corning Supercharger

At Corning there was another Tesla there, but I pulled into a charger that was not paired with theirs.  I went for a stroll, but I was not hungry enough to grab a bite to eat and was going to find something in Vacaville.

My charge took the 25 minutes as required, and the car told me “You have enough energy to continue on your trip”. I recorded on the Tesla app a charge of 140 miles.  Google maps indicates the driving distance is 113 miles.  EV trip planner also says there is a drop of 174 feet.  Although the buffer was not large, I was comfortable enough driving on.

Williams

A little after 5pm, the hunger pangs hit in and I decided to find some vegetarian fast food.  Just off the exit in Willows, CA is a Burger King, which sells a vegetarian burger.  After picking one up, the range assurance software became very unhappy.  I had not even added a mile to my trip, but it wanted me to go back to Corning.  I refused and checked my battery level and was comfortable I could get to Vacaville.  I continued on driving just under the speed limit at 68 or 69 mph and kept my kwH / mile at a reasonable level.  I was comfortable with the amount of energy in my battery.

I turned off the navigation as it continued to want me to make a U-turn.  I briefly became a bit anxious; I was finding the navigation system was giving me more range anxiety than I have had in the past; I did not actually have “range anxiety” but I was slightly disappointed that I unexpectedly need to pay more attention to my energy usage than expected.  In my 40,000 miles of driving the Tesla I have never experienced any true range anxiety.  I have experienced a few periods of time where I needed to drive conservatively.   These few cases were planned in that I knew I was pushing the limits of charge in my battery before I began driving.

I turned the software on again a few times to see what it decided to do.  Somewhere in the middle of the two supercharging stations, it told me to go find another place to charge!

Unexpected Mid Journey Warning too Far Away From  Any Chargers

Unexpected Mid Journey Warning too Far Away From Any Chargers

For entertainment purposes, I hit the show chargers option.  It wanted me to drive over the mountains and go to some wineries on the way to Calistoga. I was definitely not going to do that option, and turned off navigation and continued my conservative driving with the cruise control on.  When I asked the Tesla where to go at one point it wanted me to drive to the Roseville supercharger first and arrive there with zero charge!  The distance between the Corning supercharger and the Vacaville supercharger is 113 miles, whereas the distance between the Corning supercharger and the Roseville supercharger is 128 miles.

Navigator Re-routed Me to Roseville

Navigator Re-routed Me to Roseville

Software Weakness #5 – The software needs to remember in the cache that it had earlier told me I had enough energy to get to the next supercharger.  I was driving within the speed limits.  Just because I used up perhaps a wee bit more energy and would arrive with 20 miles left instead of 25, the software should not get completely confused.

Ironically just across the street from the Burger King is a Motel 6 with a Sun Country charger.  Also fifteen miles before Vacaville is a public charger in Winters, CA.  These two options along with a few other choices along I-5 and in Woodland would have been much better choices in a real charging emergency.  Charging stations are not ubiquitous along I-5 but do exist.

Software Weakness #6 – When suggesting emergency charging, the software should list all charging stations.  Currently it appears to list only Tesla HPWC and superchargers but not the more ubiquitous chargers by other companies. Even better yet, it should tell you to significantly slow down.  I could have easily driven 60mph.

As I was approaching Vacaville, I began to speed up a bit.  The software finally settled down and routed me to Vacaville with some remaining charge.

Vacaville Supercharger

The Vacaville supercharger was quite busy.  I pulled into a non-paired stall with 17 miles left.  Another person arrived just before me but selected a paired stall.  I have noticed that many Tesla owners simply drive up to any supercharger stall without even checking the stall designation.  Perhaps they are uninformed that their charge can be greatly reduced if they pick a paired stall with another recent arrival.

Backing up is a bit tricky in some of the stalls in Vacaville.  There room in front of the middle stalls is hampered by perpendicular parking in front.  By the time I backed in, the out of state drivers had already walked away from their charging stall.

Continuing my test, I charged until the the time the car told me I had enough energy to complete my journey home, which was exactly 20 minutes.  At this point every charger was full.  As I was simply going home and my test theoretically complete, I pulled out to give my stall to the newcomer.  But taking a second look while parked in front of the 8 Teslas charging, I saw the following statistics:

  1. Driving distance to home – 104 miles
  2. Rated range charge – 111 miles
  3. Expected charge upon arrival 5%

Software Weakness #7 – The warning indicator “You have enough energy to continue on this trip” is not carefully programmed.  The software told me I had enough energy to continue on the trip with a very small margin below 25 miles.  I am guessing that the timer stuck to the initial 20 minutes instead of charging time instead of accurately measuring the charge level upon completion. 

Instead of continuing, I saw another car had left and backed into and charged some more.  The charge rate was painfully slow as I was in a paired stall with I suspect someone pulling a lot of energy.  I probably left about 10 minutes later knowing I had to drive conservatively to make it home.  The Bay Area has a lot of gentle hills and I would need to use a little more energy for the last leg of my trip.

Tire Pressure Warning

About 30 miles away from home, I got the Tire Pressure Warning (TPWS) light come on.  I have not received this warning in over a year.  In the past I got a lot of false warnings and some very genuine warnings before a potential blow out.  I pulled over and looked at the tires and they did not look visibly low.  When I got back in the car the warning went away, only to reappear and disappear again 15 miles later after looking at the tires again.

The next day I took the car to my local garage and one tire was lower by about 10 psi and had a nail in it.   The TPWS worked well and saved my tire.  I’m not sure why the behavior flickered on and off.  The perpendicular angle of the nail resulted in a slow leak and the tire is now repaired.

Conclusions

Tesla is headed in the right direction by helping drivers plan their energy usage.  They correctly labeled this software as a Beta version.  Most of the problems I found were more software weaknesses / enhancements than explicit bugs.  Unfortunately in the current condition the software will do little to reduce range anxiety and in some cases may significantly increase range anxiety.

In the current software, Tesla is trying to appease two opposing needs at the same time:  range anxiety and optimal charging time.  Unfortunately, these two needs are actually inversely correlated.  If I want to have no range anxiety, I would fill up the battery as much as possible before continuing or at least add more of a cushion, but that would take up more time at the superchargers.  If I want to optimize my charging time, I need to watch the driving speed and monitor the energy usage.  If I always keep the battery as low as possible, I could easily have some range anxiety or a trip where I need to monitor energy usage.

Software Weakness #8 – The software should have an option for selecting between truly optimal supercharging times or range anxiety cushions.  Clearly the software is aiming that you arrive at the next supercharger with 25 miles left.  I find this a reasonable cushion for point to point conservative driving.  Perhaps the software should have an option:  range or time.  The time would be in the current configuration.  I doubt anyone would want to plan with less than a 25 mile buffer.  The range option would perhaps increase this buffer by 25 miles to 50 miles.

The current software is useful for existing Model S owners, but in its current state it will not address the concerns of the non-tech savvy person who may have range anxiety.   I have forwarded this review to Tesla management, and I am confident that the software will improve over time.

For Model S drivers when using this software, I would point out the following five facts before embarking on a road trip:

  1. The amount of time to charge at each supercharger is relatively aggressive leaving you only 25 miles extra driving distance at the speed limit.
  2. You may get some scary warnings if you veer off the software’s designated path.
  3. The Tesla software does not include any non-Tesla chargers – either commercial stations or free if you are close to running out of juice.  Please consult other websites or smartphone apps if you are running out of energy.
  4. The software may notify that your battery is full enough to leave the supercharger but may actually need more time.  Double check the charge before unplugging.
  5. The software may give you false warnings when out of cell signal range.

Range Anxiety

Elon Musk had a press conference today to discuss upcoming firmware improvements in version 6.2 and beyond.

Firmware 6.2:

  1. New Range Assurance Application that is always running in the background.  The car is always monitoring where it is in relationships to the superchargers and warns you if you may run out of electricity.  This monitoring takes into account current weather conditions and terrain.  You have to “opt-out” twice before running out of range.
  2. Built in trip planner that considers best route for your trip along with best charging opportunities.  The trip planner also figures out how long you need to charge at the location and lets you know on your smartphone that it is time to go.
  3. The supercharger status is also on a network.  The car is constantly communicating with this network.
  4. Automatic safety braking
  5. Side to side collision and blind spot warning
  6. Improvements in radio reception
  7. Valet mode similar to the Roadster
  8. Nuanced accelerator and brake improvements

Firmware 7

  1. New user interface
  2. Auto steering features

Other updates:

Model X is coming out this summer, and the first real auto-drive features will be available in six months.  Over the next twelve months all of Europe and the US (except for Northern Alaska) will be covered with superchargers. In 2015, Tesla will be deploying more superchargers in the world than the sum of all superchargers to date.

These new features are quite nice, and will be very helpful for those less technologically savvy.  I have to admit I have never had any range anxiety while traveling.  I am looking forward to having the whole continental US completely covered with superchargers.  I hope that means I can take a trip through the lonely deserts of southern Nevada and Arizona without depending upon charging at a campground.  For a true dream roadtrip, I would like a battery pack and a comfortable car that is still fun to drive that had a useful real world range of about 400 miles requiring just one charge per day.