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Future Tesla Model S features: ‘Sleep’ mode and a ‘sensor suite’ of safety features for the driver

Tesla Model S is equipped with two of Nvidia’s module that powers the infotainment and instrument cluster systems. The product was shown during a press conference on May 14, 2013 in Tesla’s headquarters in Palo Alto. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)

One of the flashiest features of Tesla Motors (TSLA)’ all-electric Model S sedan is the 17-inch touch-screen nestled into the center of the dashboard. Developed in-house by Tesla’s tight-knit team of software engineers, the large iPad-like device includes navigation and music streaming, and is equipped with 3G wireless for Internet access.

On Tuesday, JB Straubel, Tesla’s chief technical officer, offered a glimpse into the Model S’s future and a promise of new, high-tech safety and communications features.

“We want to compete with laptop makers and mobile devices and offer the experience in the car,” said Straubel, a Stanford engineering graduate who oversees all software, electronics and propulsion in the vehicle and who has been with Palo Alto-based Tesla since the company was founded. “It looks totally familiar to anyone who uses Apple (AAPL) products.”

Tesla has the ability to push software updates out to its current Model S customers, so the car can automatically be refreshed to include new or enhanced capabilities, including a “sensor suite” of safety features for the driver. That could include pedestrian detection, collision
avoidance technology and additional cameras to monitor blind spots or obstructions while driving.

Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk, a well-known futurist, has talked about driverless cars, but Tesla executives have said the company is not working on that at this time.

“You’ll see blind spot detection and smarter and smarter cruise control,” said Straubel, adding that Tesla plans to develop most of the new technologies in-house. “It’s a core competency.”

The Model S already uses an enormous amount of computing power, so much that one complaint about the car is that it loses some battery range when left overnight due in part to the sheer number of electronic features. The Model S “boots up” very quickly but it’s been a challenge to put the car “to sleep.”


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