In lots of ways, Tesla’s new Smart Summon feature is classic Tesla. Rolled out last week as part of an extensive software update—which also included updates for Automatic Lane Change; an in-car, 360-degree view while behind the wheel; a new game dashboard to use while waiting for the car to charge; and something called Caraoke—Smart Summon does what it sounds like. If you’re in a private parking lot or driveway and no more than 200 feet away from your car, you can pull out your phone, navigate through the Tesla app, and press COME TO ME. The car will, hopefully, come to you.
Like many of Tesla’s products and features, Smart Summon is fun, cool, delayed by a few months, in beta, and demands users follow specific instructions and pay lots of attention. Tesla is trusting drivers to use Smart Summon exactly as it instructs in its release notes: off of public roads and only if the app-wielder can see the car at all times. Indeed, as with Tesla’s automated driving feature, Autopilot, Smart Summon is meant to be used only in very specific situations. If something goes wrong because you’re not paying attention—well, according to the feature’s release notes, that’s on you. “Be prepared to stop the vehicle quickly,” the company notes in an ad posted to social media. The release notes for the feature also state that Smart Summon “may not detect all obstacles.” Really, seriously: Pay attention.
So perhaps it is no surprise: Tesla fans have been uploading video of Smart Summon in action all weekend, with a few bloopers included. Videos banging around the internet include a near-fender-bender in a crowded parking lot driveway and an actual fender-bender in another. Other footage indicates the vehicle may have trouble distinguishing grass from pavement, which may prove frustrating to Tesla-owning lawn-care enthusiasts. Tesla did not respond to questions about Smart Summon.
Still, there are undoubtedly moments in which Smart Summon might be useful, if not just cool: if it’s raining and you don’t have an umbrella and would rather the car come to you; if it’s difficult for you to walk, because of a disability or an injury. For a parent wrangling groceries and children, avoiding even a 2-minute walk to the car might save some sanity, though they’ll be challenged to keep their eyes on their vehicle as it driverlessly navigates toward them.
But according to at least one expert, Smart Summon doesn’t mean that Tesla is close to doing what CEO Elon Musk has promised: unleashing a fleet of self-driving robot taxis by the end of next year. “If Tesla is having some trouble in an uncontrolled situation [like a parking lot], and that [Smart Summon] feature is far from perfection, then Tesla having full self-driving cars at the end of next year? I can only laugh at that,” says Raj Rajkumar, who studies autonomous technology at Carnegie Mellon University.
One large hurdle for Tesla’s self-driving ambitions is driving speed, says Rajkumar. For a summon feature, the vehicle’s sensors only need to be able to “see” a few dozen feet away. At slow parking-lot speeds—around 5 mph—that limitation might be OK. But at faster speeds, vehicles cover meters in matters of seconds. Building a car that can quickly “see” and then “react” to sudden road obstacles—something that fell off the back of a truck, or a person—might be a matter of life or death.
social experiment by Livio Acerbo #greengroundit #wired https://www.wired.com/story/teslas-smart-summon-fetch-your-car