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Telematics

Tesla Can Now Pool Traffic Data for Better Routes

by Stephen Lawson
New navigation software for Tesla vehicles can update routes in real time using crowdsourced navigation data, an approach made popular by Google's Waze app.

The new capability arrives with firmware version 8.1 (2018.14), Teslarati reported on April 12. Tesla recently introduced a revamped navigation system designed to give clearer driving directions.

CEO Elon Musk had promised on Twitter that better routing in heavy traffic would be ready soon.

The crowdsourcing platform will collect information from Teslas on the road, company engineers wrote in a software update notice, which notes that the system "does not identify you or your car." Drivers can also turn off the feature. The note also said Tesla would share data from its own cars with partners that provide similar information, which suggests the system will know about traffic jams ahead even if there aren't any Teslas stuck in them.

There are other sources of traffic data that feed automakers' in-dash navigation systems, including SiriusXM satellite radio, which uses data from sources including roadway sensors and GPS-equipped trucks.

However, Waze's technology, which lets users tap buttons to immediately report backups, accidents, speed traps and other problems, has proved an effective way to keep drivers up to date. It turns the cars of millions of app users into real-time warning systems, forming a network that gets more informative the more drivers download the app.

Google acquired the Waze smartphone app in 2013. Last year the company added a version of it to the Android Auto platform, bringing it to cars' built-in touchscreens through phones connected to the car. Waze for iOS is also beginning to make its way to in-car infotainment systems, beginning with an integration with the Ford Sync 3 platform.

Automakers, software companies, streaming services and wireless carriers are all vying to provide features like navigation and entertainment in cars. Those features may generate lucrative subscription and advertising revenue for years and help to hook consumers on brands and platforms. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay aren't yet available on Teslas, and they're only gradually winning acceptance in other companies' cars.

The new Tesla navigation software, which Musk has described as a "mature beta," also includes a redesign to better prepare drivers for upcoming maneuvers with features like zooming in and showing which lane is best for the maneuver. The new version again highlighted Tesla's ability to significantly update its vehicles' software over the air, a key selling point for its cars.

Reports about the new traffic feature came during a busy week for Tesla, as the company faced criticism over its handling of the recent fatal crash of a Model X on Autopilot. The National Transportation Safety Board removed Tesla from the crash investigation after saying it violated an agreement by revealing data.

Also this week, Musk promised higher manufacturing volume for the Model 3 and said his company would be profitable in the second half of this year. In an interview on CBS, he showed a reporter where he often sleeps in the Model 3 factory as the company works on producing enough cars.

Stephen Lawson is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @sdlawsonmedia.

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