The update will enable the cars to enter what Tesla calls autopilot mode, in which Model S saloons will be able to navigate highways and major roads without any input from the driver. Musk claims that the technology is “technically capable of going from parking lot to parking lot,” but the feature would be disabled when vehicles are not on major roads due to safety concerns, writes Aaron M. Kessler for the New York Times.

Musk: Autonomous Tesla Cars On U.S. Roads By Summer

A move towards autonomous vehicles

Another new feature means that drivers can summon their cars via smartphone, as well as sending the vehicles to park themselves. This feature will only be allowed on private property for the time being.

Testing for Tesla’s autopilot feature has been undertaken on a route between San Francisco and Seattle, and the cars have navigated largely unassisted. A software update will soon enable active safety features such as automatic emergency braking, as well as blind-spot and side-collision warnings.

The most significant update is designed to tackle the problem is “range anxiety,” which is ever-present in electric vehicles. The new tools will make it almost impossible for Tesla vehicles to run out of battery power, by planning a route based on the availability of charging stations.

Tesla tackling range anxiety

Tesla is a market leader in terms of range, with the basic Model S able to manage journeys of over 200 miles without charging. This compares favorably to other manufacturers, but remains a concern for those used to gasoline-powered cars. Traditional carmakers, such as GM, are set to enter the electric car arena, providing more competition for Tesla.

Musk is optimistic that range anxiety can be eliminated easily, but others are not so sure. Matt DeLorenzo, managing editor for news at Kelley Blue Book, said that drivers undertaking long trips will be inconvenienced by the enforced stops needed to recharge an electric car.

“If you take a conventional car, you can drive 10 hours and stop for gas in that time, which takes about five to 10 minutes. In a Tesla, best-case scenario, is enforced stops of at least a half-hour or more,” Mr. DeLorenzo said.

Other sources of anxiety for potential Tesla users include the possibility of buying one legally. Just this week the company gained a major victory in its struggle to be allowed to sell cars directly to customers, after Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey signed a bill enabling Tesla to bypass traditional dealerships.