A software update of the complex computer-controlled gullwing doors on Tesla’s Model X may have created a bigger problem than the one it solved.
In an update this past week, Tesla says it adjusted a set of sensors inside the car doors that helped detect whether something was blocking a door from closing. Now, owners of the flashy battery-powered crossover worry those doors could severely injure hands and arms that get caught between the door frame and the Model X’s body.
A YouTube video posted by MEtv Product Reviews on Tuesday, Aug. 30, shows the door slicing a regular-size cucumber in half. A second video using a larger-circumference cucumber shows it taking several attempts to chop the vegetable in half.
A Tesla spokeswoman said in an email that the software update was designed "to improve closure consistency and reduce false detection of obstacles."
Tesla declined to comment directly on concerns among some Model X owners of possible injuries from the door operation.
According to postings on Tesla's user forum pages, the automaker this week performed an overnight software update to the controls that operate the electronic doors, which automatically open and close – up and down – at the press of a button.
The update was designed to address complaints of the doors opening or closing by themselves, according to website Teslarati, a site dedicated to covering Tesla. The doors have been the subject of numerous complaints in Tesla owner forums.
The software change apparently disabled pressure sensitive sensors in the door frames that detect objects in door apertures of the body. Before the update, the doors would stop and reverse slightly if those sensors detected hands, arms or other objects in the way. Now, the doors do not stop until one of the other sensors kicks in and senses trouble, according to a video posted by MEtv Product Reviews.
The rear doors, a signature styling feature of the Model X, have been troublesome from the start. After the Model X was launched last fall, owners began complaining of "phantom object detections," a situation in which the doors would suddenly stop working. The doors are programmed to stop rather than risk striking something outside the vehicle.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has admitted the doors -- which Tesla calls “falcon wing” -- have been extremely difficult to engineer and program.
Speaking May 31 at the company’s shareholder meeting, Musk said of the doors: “In particular, the software that controls the Model X and the operation of the doors has been incredibly difficult to refine, and getting the complex set of sensors to work well has been difficult to refine. I think we’re almost there in making the doors useful.”
Tesla fired and then sued the original door supplier, Hoerbiger Automotive Comfort Systems, in January, citing numerous performance and quality concerns that Tesla claims caused the Model X to be delayed.
No injuries reported
Before this week's software change, a few Model X owners filed complaints related to the doors on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data base. No injuries have been reported, but myriad problems are detailed, including a door that opened as a vehicle was backing out of a garage, causing major damage, and a misaligned door that damaged the vehicle’s body.
In the Tesla forum, a Model X owner identified as eddiemoy complained Tuesday about the software update. “Why would you turn a safety feature off? Because they cannot fix the issue and everyone is complaining about it,” the Tesla owner wrote.
Later in the thread, eddiemoy reports taking the vehicle back to a Tesla service center and watching as a technician put his arm in the door’s path and let it close on his arm. The technician demonstrated that the door stops closing after a bit. The forum user said he or she then tried putting his or her arm in, and “it doesn’t hurt as bad as I thought. Keep in mind that I only tested with my forearm and it not any boney parts like my wrist or fingers. I'm sure they would hurt a lot more.”
At the May shareholder meeting, Musk promised a fix for the falcon wing doors was in the works. Tesla has updated the door software at least twice this month, according to website Teslarati.
“Digging ourselves out of the hole has been quite hard,” Musk said. “But I think with the software release that’s going out shortly and another one that’s going out in maybe a month or so, I think finally we’ll be at the point where the doors are better than normal doors.”