Medieval thinking around automatic software updates

A new Tesla owner, unsure of what to do about a software update for his car, asked if he should just wait and let other people update the software in their cars first….to see if the “fix” had any side effects he might want to avoid.

If you own a car built in the 21st century, it likely has software in it.  Some manufacturers such as Tesla, BMW and others, have an “over the air” software update feature.   There are no regulations that govern this.

In a Tesla forum for Tesla owners, a fellow calling himself Boxhat1 reached out to other owners and asked:

Any one receive an update available for their car last night? The wife just mentioned that there is a pending update available. I am not able to get anymore detail till I return home. This is my first update since owning the car, so what is the protocol here? Do people immediately do the install or wait till some of the more adventurist [sic] owners try it out first to see if introduces any side effects.

When it comes to software updates to a car, a “side effect” (software bug) could be deadly.  So the owner of the vehicle is asking whether or not to wait and see if something terrible happens to another Tesla owner before he should allow the update to go ahead.

This is Medieval thinking.

Waiting to update software until you see if something unfortunate happens to another car owner is like saying, “I’m not sure if the food is safe to eat, so I’ll just wait until other people eat this food and see if something bad happens to them before I go ahead and eat.”

The person who posted this is new to the whole car software update business, but quite frankly, he shouldn’t be out there on his own seeking help from other car owners who are stumbling through the software update process themselves.  There should be clear, precise rules about how and when automatic software can be updated to a vehicle and what obligations the automaker has to ensure its safety critical software is safe.

We have none of that.  We need standard rules around software safety.  We need to answer questions like:

  • Should car companies be permitted to change the software in their customers’ cars without formal acceptance on the part of the owner?
  • How can people easily assess the reliability of the software update?
  • Do we accept “Beta Testing” of software in our vehicles (if you read between the lines, that’s what some reporters claim is the “only way” to get better software).

The people who tried to help Boxhat1 sometimes showed their own uncertainties:

I tried to download last night (wifi connected and projected to take 1 hour 40 minutes), but this morning I got a message to the effect of ‘try again later’. I hate to admit that I do not know how to cause a fresh download to begin. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? 

Just schedule it to install in the middle of the night, assuming you are not driving it.

Does Tesla publish release notes that outlines the changes? I haven’t been able to find it anywhere. I’ve only seen notes for the major releases. 2015 85D

Release notes are available by touching the Tesla logo at the top of the page.

My challenge is that there is no longer an indication that a download is available, and I don’t know how to call that up so I can schedule the event. Anyone?

Not Major changes. I thought we get Auto Steering. Bummer Paid tesla long time back for it not yet any road map also.

@edwardhart – when the update fails, sometimes a re-boot will allow another download of the software. If it doesn’t download within a week, I’d call the service center and they can have it re-sent.

You are confused. When you get the notice, the download is already completed; what you are scheduling is the install. Connectivity is required at that point only to check on progress with the mothership. Speed is not relevant then.

Service center downloaded what they guessed was *.249 for me yesterday.

The scheduled overnight install failed with the “we’ll get back to you” message this morning. Presumably there will be another notification after a newly-downloaded file arrives “soon”.

Evidently there are no release notes with this release, so tapping the logo will be useless, presuming one read and remembers the release notes from the last time they were included – which I believe has been all of twice or thrice since the advent of 6.2.*.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.