Has Tesla disabled some of the object detection features of the falcon wing or gullwing doors on the Tesla Model X crossover? An owner has posted a series of YouTube videos of the door on a Model X neatly chopping in half a series of cucumber. This on a car that apparently got this week’s software release 7.1 2.32.100 downloaded automatically to his car.
Tesla more than any other automaker has used automatic, over-the-air software updates. It’s convenient for owners. It gets improvements and bug fixes installed far faster than a trip to the dealer. This may be hyper-useful if – if – someone hacks a car and an automaker needs to deliver a fix immediately. It also could change or disable a safety feature in ways an owner might not like, were he or she given a chance to learn about the change.
Over the decades, car doors that swing open with the hinge on top have been a challenge to keep aligned and easy to close. A gullwing door, as on the DeLorean (see “Back to the Future”), is a single-piece door. Tesla’s variant, which it calls a falcon wing, has a second hinge separating upper and lower halves, allowing it to open in tight spaces. It also means more components to align, and realign when they stop working properly.
The Tesla Model X has the falcon wing doors providing access to the middle and rear seating rows, and more traditional “self-presenting” doors in front.
Model X owners have complained about alignment and closing issues with the falcon wing doors. Sometimes the door won’t close, apparently because one of the multiple sensor sets believed something was in the way, what’s called a phantom object detection. In addition, owners were concerned that the initial setup of the remote key fob could open or close all doors with a single, inadvertent, button press.
Listening to feedback from Tesla owners, Tesla automatically sent an over the air update this week that was automatically downloaded and installed. It addressed the inadvertant auto-open or -close issue with the key fob.
But it also appears to have disabled some of the functionality of pressure- and proximity-measuring sensors in the doors. The doors close with enough vigor to cut a medium-size cucumber in half, according to videos on the MeTV YouTube channel, and mash larger cucumbers. Whether a cucumber is analagous to a human arm or leg is difficult to say. (It isn’t, unless you have very soft bones. But the implications for your fingers are disturbing — Ed). At least in the videos, the door makes contact with larger objects and then reverses. Note that the voiceover on the videos suggests some cause-and-effect conclusions that might be seen in a different light by other testers.
An onscreen note inside the cockpit entitled What’s New in [software] Release 7.1 reads in part:
Several media sites have queried Tesla. Tesla declined comment for a story in Automotive News. We received this comment from Tesla, as did Jalopnik (same words): “We adjusted Model X Falcon Wing doors via a software update in order to improve closure consistency and reduce false detection of obstacles.”
Tesla CEO Elon Musk in the past has spoken broadly about the challenges of making top-hinged doors work well. At the May 31, 2016 shareholder meeting, Musk said:
The original supplier of the doors, Hoerbiger Automotive Comfort Systems, was fired and then sued.