Here's a fun idea: Try to unlock and drive away in someone else's Tesla
Bring back keys! Bring back keys!
The first keys and locks appeared some 6,000 years ago and continue to work well. We use them to secure our homes and cars among many other things valued by us.
But Big Tech – ever in search of solutions without problems – disdains anything that doesn't have a microchip in it. Apple, for example, thinks it would be wicked cool if you could unlock your front door with your iPhone or Apple Watch. Otherwise, it's in cars where keyless entry has really taken off.
It works pretty well for the most part. This vulture's slightly battered 2011 Ford Focus was cutting-edge when new – boasting built-in GPS and the ability to open the car by touching the handle as long the key fob is on your person. It still has an actual key, however, secreted away inside the fob if needed. Our even rustier Ford Fiesta requires physical unlocking.
Of course, that's too primitive for a manufacturer like Tesla, which does away with physical keys entirely in favor of a phone app, key card or key fob. For the same reason that Apple and Android NFC payment is so useful, most people opt for the phone. You're going to be taking that out with you come what may, obviating the need to carry around another item to lock the car.
While the key is elegantly simple, hardware and software is not. It suffers bugs and glitches, can be hacked, and a lot of unexpected issues can arise when playing in systems with so many complex moving parts where few (outside of The Reg readership) understand how they really work. These shortcomings were acutely felt by two men in Vancouver recently when one drove off in the other's Tesla by accident.
First of all, we should point out that other car manufacturers are available. We know Elon Musk is a godlike genius and we all want to be just like him, but jeez, don't people aspire to project a more nuanced personality type than "Tesla owner"?
Relating his tale to Canada's Global News, immigration consultant Rajesh Randev said that problems began when he parked his white Model 3 next to another white Model 3 to visit a restaurant. Returning to the car(s) to pick his children up from school, he had been driving some 10-15 minutes when he noticed a crack on the windshield that had not been there before. Stranger still, his phone charger was not where he left it.
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Then he got a text from an unrecognized number: "Hello Rajesh. Do you drive a Tesla?" He pulled over to ask who was contacting him and was told: "I think you're driving the wrong car."
Meanwhile, Mahmoud Esaeyh was at home, having let his brother, Mohammed, take his Model 3 out to run an errand. The much more observant Mohammed had clocked that the interior in the remaining car was wrong and he called Mahmoud, who attempted to remotely lock the Tesla, which failed.
Fortunately, Mohammed was also able to unlock Randev's car using Mahmoud's key card and found medical documents inside with his name and number. Randev and Mahmoud hashed out the bizarre situation and it was agreed that Randev could continue to use the car to pick up his kids.
Once done, Randev returned to the parking spot and filmed a demonstration of how each Tesla owner could access and drive the other's car. All's well that ends well, the two shared a laugh and informed the police, who said a report would not be required.
Though it may be an isolated incident, it raises more questions about the quality of Tesla manufacturing – an ongoing concern for regulators like the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). What's more frustrating is that Randev tried to contact the company directly to explain the malfunction before going to the press, including The Washington Post. His message to Tesla's press email bounced and another to Tesla's China unit was blocked. "I even tweeted Elon Musk," he said.
Even though Musk owns Twitter, a tweet about one of his most prized companies is not guaranteed a personal response – as one family found out after their Tesla's steering wheel fell off while driving down the highway.
Tesla first charged the Patels over $100 for the repairs then rescinded the fee after it was contested for being a manufacturing fault. Eventually the dealership replaced the car, but although the incident slipped the CEO's notice, the NHTSA is taking the matter seriously.
While we may joke that a car designed to drive itself does not need a steering wheel, Tesla's Autopilot and Full Self-Driving features are also under intense scrutiny for failing to deliver what they promise. Now that keys may be interchangeable, the brand's luxury status has taken yet another knock. ®