Tesla Adds Charging-Station Status Indicators to Its In-Car Maps

Supercharger occupancy on map

Public charging infrastructure is rapidly ramping up around the country, but it’s woefully lacking in one area: ease of use. Anyone who’s tried to charge an electric vehicle—except for those from Tesla—probably knows that it can be a jungle out there, with inconsistent charger interfaces, restricted access, or required keycards or apps. And then there are the “charger hogs” who see it as a cheap or free parking space.

Tesla is the exception to much of this disarray because it wholly owns and runs its Supercharger network, which offers the same look and user experience from charger to charger. And while it’s dealt with the charger hogs by imposing a 40-cent-per minute (yes, $24 per hour) idle fee, one important piece of information was missing even for those within the Tesla ecosystem: charger occupancy status.

The charger-occupation data was fully enabled earlier this month in what Tesla spokesperson Alexis Georgeson would describe only as “a recent incremental release,” and it shows up as a new data field used by the mapping and navigation features of the Model S and Model X. It includes a summary of how many charging stalls are available out of the total number at that location; it’s also expressed with a segmented red bar placed above the location marker that is easy to read at a glance.

The feature could prove especially important as Tesla gears up for the release of its mass-market electric car, the Model 3, which will reach a different, more mainstream demographic that might not have home charging so easily accessible. The Supercharger network was designed to enable (and prioritize) road trips, but it’s possible we might see Tesla give metro areas a little more focus—especially when Tesla makes what it hopes are hundreds of thousands of deliveries by the end of 2018.

“The greatest use of this feature right now is where we have multiple superchargers and we put those superchargers close by, where owners have an option of whether to go to one or the other,” said Georgeson.

Nissan EZ Charge
-Tesla certainly isn’t the first company to network its charger status. The app for Nissan’s EZ-Charge network of affiliated chargers will show you whether or not many of its DC fast chargers are in use (and so will PlugShare, the popular app on which Nissan’s is based). But these in-use indicators can’t always be trusted—and they often aren’t working as they’re supposed to—because there are so many different hardware makers, networks, and charging providers, each with varying levels of support and downtime.

The Supercharger occupancy feature currently has about a two-minute latency, but it soon will be fully networked with vehicle systems and essentially operate in real time. That could in theory allow the navigation system to add smart, predictive features that would be handy for route planning when charging is needed along the way, and it could allow centralized seeding of vehicles into charger stops for efficiency. It’s the sort of natural, next-step improvement that you can almost certainly be sure is on Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s task list.

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