Tesla’s new “Smart Summon” feature is already causing confusion — and some minor fender benders. It’s another example of the real-world complications that arise from Tesla’s willingness to beta test features using customers.
Smart Summon is the new name for Tesla’s autonomous parking feature, which enables a Tesla vehicle to leave a parking space and navigate around obstacles to its owner. Tesla owners who purchased the Full Self-Driving option on their car received it as part of the version 10 software update that went out last week. Using just a smartphone, you can “summon” your car to you from a maximum distance of 200 feet, as long as the car is within your line of sight.
Videos of Tesla owners testing the new feature have already began popping up on social media over the weekend, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s kind of a mess. One Tesla owner tweeted about “front bumper damage,” while another claimed their Model 3 “ran into the side of [a] garage.” A video of a near collision with a speeding SUV left the owner feeling their test of Smart Summon “didn’t go so well.” Another Tesla was filmed seemingly confused by pedestrians and other cars as it tried to make its way across a Walmart parking lot. Tesla warns owners to be careful with using Smart Summon because it’s not a fully autonomous feature. “You are still responsible for your car and must monitor it and its surroundings at all times and be within your line of sight because it may not detect all obstacles,” the fine print on Tesla’s website reads . “Be especially careful around quick moving people, bicycles and cars.”
Of course, the Smart Summon tweets and videos are already subject to fierce debate among supporters and short sellers of Tesla’s stock alike. Supporters accuse the Tesla owners of misusing the feature — they’re “doing some dumb things with it,” according to Electrek — or even lying about what actually happened, while the shorts have their own theories about how all this could possibly relate to the company’s upcoming earnings report.
This feels like a tiny glimpse of the chaotic future. Amid flagging auto sales, car companies are introducing more and more futuristic-seeming functions in their production vehicles. This includes advanced driver assist systems, like Tesla’s Autopilot and GM’s Super Cruise, and other features that take advantage of the suite of cameras and sensors that come embedded in practically every modern car today. Tesla is obviously ahead of the pack. Their competitors are rushing to keep up.
The result will be a messy scrum of “smart” and “dumb” cars interacting with each other in ways that are both hilarious and potentially dangerous — especially when the smart cars aren’t as smart as advertised. Either way, these interactions are tailor-made to go viral.
This weekend’s video bonanza is just the beginning — and they’re likely to shape some of the public’s perception of autonomous vehicles as janky and prone to mistakes. You could place them in the same category as the “Tesla driver sleeping while driving on the highway” genre of YouTube videos that have been circulating for years now. The takeaway is that the more people get to experience autonomy in their real lives, the less plausible it seems.