Hybrids & Electrics

Tesla’s Smart Summon Doesn’t Work So Well

With any software release comes the risk of bugs or other flaws. Tesla’s latest update, Version 10, comes with Smart Summon, which lets your Tesla come to you from wherever it’s parked, with the push of a button. In the last few days, as owners have begun experimenting with the new feature, it’s clear there are a few kinks that need to be worked out.

How It’s Supposed to Work

As Tesla explains in a recent Twitter video, Smart Summon works through the Tesla app. Owners press and hold the ‘Come to Me’ button, while the car navigates obstacles around it until it reaches its destination. Tesla is clear to point out that if you wish to use Smart Summon, to “make sure you have a clear line of sight to your car and have checked its surroundings.” The company also plainly states that “it is the driver’s responsibility to use Smart Summon safely.” Please keep this in mind.

What’s Going Wrong

As Jalopnik’s Jason Torchinsky points out, it doesn’t bode well when the official video Tesla released demonstrating the feature shows its car appearing to drive down the wrong lane of traffic in a parking lot. Although the car doesn’t technically break any regulations (the lane isn’t actually one-way), it does demonstrate that the software doesn’t evaluate its surroundings the same way a human driver would.

Even more worrying are the videos shot by Tesla owners of their cars barely avoiding collisions with oncoming parking lot traffic. Or in some cases, not avoiding. Several fender-benders have already been filmed. One owner even tweeted out that their Model 3 couldn’t even navigate a totally empty driveway without crashing into the side of the house.

Homes aren’t the only things that confuse Smart Summon, however. One owner filmed their car struggling in the middle of a busy parking lot, flummoxed by all the moving objects and pedestrians around it.

Not helping the issue are videos like this, where Tesla owners race their respective vehicles using the Smart Summon feature. What was that about driver responsibility, again?

Thoughts For Moving Forward

As the next step towards autonomous driving, Smart Summon is an intriguing bit of software. Tesla, according to Jalopnik, has indicated that this is a beta release, meaning the coding will undoubtedly improve over time. But that doesn’t really help when real people are at risk. Right now, Smart Summon appears to only work in ideal conditions. The cars simply lack the subtle nuances that help prevent parking lot collisions. And what happens when a collision does occur? Who’s at fault? How will insurance work in these scenarios? These aren’t just hypothetical questions; Tesla owners are already tweeting about it.

As it stands today, ‘smart’ cars with such features are going to have to deal with ‘dumb’, human-operated ones for quite some time. Using Smart Summon means whoever is pressing the button is essentially tiptoeing a giant R/C car in a highly-trafficked public place. Designing the future of motoring was never going to be easy, and this is just another demonstration of that fact.