Buried in the digital manual of the 6.0 software update for the Model S are two new features that are impossible to implement without some new hardware. That means Tesla is either readying a new factory option or the first real refresh of the Model S is on the way.
A Tesla Motors Club forum member found instructions on a new Speed Assist feature as well as a Lane Departure Warning system. Both systems utilize a camera mounted on the windshield behind the rear view mirror, something that Tesla hasn't announced, but has hinted at in the past.
Speed Assist is similar to systems offered by Volvo, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, combining GPS markers to alert drivers of the local speed limit, but also using the front-facing camera to read speed signs where that data isn't available. Once the speed limit is logged, a gray line appears on the speedo to indicate the speed in that area, and if the driver wants it, a chime will sound to let them know they're over the limit or they can set the alert when they go 10 mph over.
The second system uses the same front-facing camera to keep track of lane lines, and if the driver veers over, the steering wheel will pulse three times to get them back on track. It only works over 30 mph, and both systems are limited by the camera's visibility, so fog, rain, direct sunlight, and anything else that can affect the view of the camera will affect the functionality.
We've got an email into Tesla to see when these features – and/or the updated Model S – could be rolling out, but if it's available in this latest software update, they should be available soon. And if it's anything like Tesla's rear proximity sensor system, current owners should be able to upgrade the hardware through a dealer.
UPDATE: Here's the official statement from Tesla on the update. We're still trying to figure out what the cost of the new camera system and whether it will be offered as an upgrade on the existing Model S:
Starting recently, some Model S being delivered in North America come equipped with two new features. The features are lane drift detection, which will deliver a warning via vibration in the steering wheel if the driver starts to drift from the lane without signaling, and speed limit display, which will inform the driver of the speed limit and alert them when it is exceeded. These features are necessary to meet the latest standards in the European market, but we have decided to integrate them into Model S delivered worldwide.
UPDATE DEUX: The new feature is being installed on all cars being built, but according to Tesla, "due to the extensive changes involved in this instance, however, a retrofit is not feasible."