Electric car maker Tesla Motors launched its first sport-utility vehicle, the Model X, in Fremont, California, Sept. 2015.
October 15, 2015 9:38 AM EDT

Thursday morning, many Tesla owners woke up to a treat: Their expensive all-electric rides can now change lanes, find a parking spot and handle stop-and-go traffic with minimal, if any, input from the driver.

Aside from the lane-changing feature, most of Tesla’s new features are found in other automakers’ high-end cars, too. But what’s most impressive about the Tesla update isn’t the autonomous features themselves. It’s how they were delivered: wirelessly, as if they were a new update for your iPhone.

How does this work? Tesla sold many of its cars with the hardware and brains necessary for self-driving features, but didn’t have the software ready to go just yet. As soon as that programming was finally ready for primetime, Tesla was able to beam it out to its already-sold vehicles across the country, effectively making them far better cars instantaneously. That’s a huge change in the automotive world. Automakers have historically reserved upgrades for new models as a means to boost sales. Tesla, ever the industry disruptor, is letting go of that thinking.

This isn’t the first time Tesla’s done something like this. Previous updates actually made their already speedy cars even faster, delivering a performance boost via software optimization. But this is the most significant upgrade Tesla has wirelessly issued, adding futuristic new features without asking drivers to head to a dealership for an upgrade.

The ability for Tesla to issue wireless updates (some other automakers can also do this, but far from all of them have taken advantage of the new capabilities) is a huge advantage when something’s amiss, too. When security researchers found that certain Jeep models were at risk of hacking attacks, parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sent owners a software patch in the mail on a USB stick. There’s zero guarantee car owners will actually install an update delivered that way — plus it opens a new attack route for hackers, who might send unsuspecting car owners malware on a drive that looks like it came from the car company. Tesla’s method is far safer, and easier as well.

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