By on September 28, 2019

Tesla Model 3, Image: Tesla

As you read here yesterday, Tesla’s biggest over-the-air software update to date has brought Model S, X, and 3 owners a host of new features, with an especially ominous (or exciting, depending on your level of trust) feature reserved for the true believers.

That Software Version 10.0 feature is Smart Summon — a way of getting your vehicle to drive to you upon exiting a building. Open the mobile app on your phone, press the necessary buttons, and your Tesla will pilot itself like the Mary Celeste to your arranged rendezvous point. Presumably, you’ll have your hands full of children and shopping, though Tesla says you’ll have to keep tabs on your vehicle — keeping it in in your field of vision — lest you find yourself liable for a fender-bender or worse.

It kind of defeats the purpose of the feature. If your attention is distracted by whiny kids or something else, how is it more convenient (or even possible) to stand there and watch your car make its way towards you, alert and ready to release that button and stop the Tesla in the event of a wayward shopper, vehicle, or rogue action on the part of your own car? How hard is it to walk over and get into your own car and drive off, especially considering the feature’s beta nature and Tesla’s long list of Autopilot fails?

Naturally, owners began testing Smart Summon the second it arrived.

Not everyone gets the feature, of course — just those who plopped down extra cash upon purchase for Full Self-Driving Capability or Enhanced Autopilot.

The feature guides the car to your position using your phone’s GPS as a target and the vehicle’s Autopilot hardware and software as a means of feeling out the route. An owner can stop the car or resume its journey by pressing or releasing the “COME TO ME” button.

You can also dial up another target via the map displayed on the app. Tesla stresses that the feature is only to be used in private parking lots or driveways; again, owners are liable for any incidents that occur.

Roddie here claims he wasn’t sure if his Model 3’s automatic emergency braking stopped the car first, or his finger. If it’s the former, then good. The latter? Well, that’s a problem.

Regardless, a close shave with that MDX.

Other videos — a slew of them, really — cropped up in the wake of the software update, nearly all of them showing Model 3s crawling hesitantly through near-empty parking lots as their owners tested out the feature. The journeys were uneventful, and nearly all of them were wholly unnecessary, given the speed at which the car travels. As a convenience feature, Smart Summon feels like more of a tool for the lazy (or those who hate getting wet and never carry an umbrella), than something that really saves you time and effort.

Perhaps your author is overly cautious, but does anyone else get a sense of dread when they see a driverless Tesla creeping through a crowded parking lot, knowing full well the gauntlet of sudden dangers that crop up in these innocuous spaces? Darting kids, sudden backer-uppers, meandering grey-hairs?

At least when a driver turns on Autopilot, they’re inside the car and behind the wheel, presumably ready to take over at a moment’s notice (which still isn’t the safest situation, as history has shown). Here, Tesla fans would argue, it’s no different. The eagle-eyed driver will simply take their finger off the button and stop the car. But the owner standing outside the front door of a mall or grocery store isn’t going to see the same things as a driver. There’ll be part of the journey where the ground surrounding the car is obscured, when only the roof of their Model 3 is seen passing a row of cars.

And once the empty-parking-lot-isn’t-this-fun test phase ends for these owners, it’s assumed many will have complete confidence in their car’s ability to show up like a tip-hungry valet. Just how vigilant will they be a week, a month, or a year from now?

Tesla’s Smart Summon is a great achievement and a gimmick all at once. It’s a way of inserting driverless autonomous cars in complex public spaces when, at present, no Level 4 or 5-capable vehicle is operating in such areas without a safety driver. And the feds don’t seem to care. Frankly, it gives this writer the willies. Do you trust it, or do you feel this particular element of Tesla’s software update is premature?

[Image: Tesla]

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57 Comments on “Would You Trust Your Car to Drive Itself, Sans Occupant?...”


  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Not the point or the question.
    That question is in Tesla’s court.
    The REAL question is should anybody ELSE trust your vehicle to drive itself!
    That should be our determination on public roads or in private/public parking lots.
    These should NOT be forced community beta testing.

  • avatar
    retrocrank

    I’m not sure that a car “driven” by a computer running software written by really smart and attentive engineers yielding highly reproducible responses is less safe than the majority of cars “driven” by inattentive dolts with minimal training and nearly no reproducibility of response other than either panic or rage.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      well, when you can say for sure, get back to me.
      meanwhile, i should have a say as to my participation in your experiment at not wanting to drive yourself.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        You’ve got to really hate people and be oblivious to the reliability of consumer goods to think this is an unqualifiedly good idea. Now excuse me while my phone runs updates.

      • 0 avatar
        retrocrank

        Why would you think I don’t prefer to drive myself?
        I just despise idiots and would rather have them contained in devices that predetermined their actions. That, Or mandatory competition licenses for all.

    • 0 avatar

      These are the same highly-trained Gods who can’t get body panels to line up with one another…?

      • 0 avatar
        retrocrank

        A bad but consistent response algorithm is better than the consistently bad responses by the average driver.

        Getting a license should be difficult and limited to skilled drivers who are well trained. Put the rest in busses or Automaton Cars.

        • 0 avatar
          TrailerTrash

          “A bad but consistent response algorithm is better than the consistently bad responses by the average driver. ”

          wow.
          hard data like that is very hard to argue with.

      • 0 avatar
        retrocrank

        A bad but consistent response algorithm is better than the consistently bad responses by the average driver.

        Getting a license should be difficult and limited to skilled drivers who are well trained. Put the rest in busses or Automaton Cars.

      • 0 avatar
        retrocrank

        A bad but consistent response algorithm is better than the consistently bad responses by the average driver.

        Getting a license should be difficult and limited to skilled drivers who are well trained. Put the rest in busses or Automaton Cars restricted to Disney Lanes.

      • 0 avatar
        retrocrank

        A bad but consistent response algorithm is better than the consistently bad responses by the average driver.

        Getting a license should be difficult and limited to skilled drivers who are well trained. Put the rest in busses or Automaton Cars restricted to Disney Lanes.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          I take it that the redundant replies are to make the point that you were being ironic and that of course it is ridiculous to put command of vehicles with lethal capabilities in the hands of programmers and accountants.

          • 0 avatar
            retrocrank

            The duplicate was because I was trying to answer off my cell phone screen – a mistake.
            I was quite serious in my last response. Programmers and accountants will of course create an imperfect and maybe dangerous situation. But at least the danger will be predictable because millions of cars will be all be controlled by mechanisms designed by a few. The way we now hand out driving licenses (it appears that being able to draw breath is the major qualification) and fail to monitor the qualify of the machines in use the public roadways, we’ve got millions of defective software packages piloting those deadly weapons. I have absolutely no way to predict the responses of other drivers to unanticipated hazards (real or delusional) will be. That amplifies the “deadly” part.
            I do not believe Automotons should be mandatory. Public road use should be restricted to those who are well-trained and whose machines can pass rigorous inspections. Everybody else has to use public transport or ride in an Automoton on pre-determined dedicated traffic lanes. So we know where they are.
            How is that worse than banning Automotons as you suggest? Are you in the group who thinks any idiot should be allowed behind the wheel of any machine even remotely capable of automotion?

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            That distracted, incompetent, impaired imbecile in the unmaintained clunker next to you has a vested interest in not crashing into your car or running you down that an H1B programmer who has been indoctrinated to hate your guts doesn’t have. There are people working at Google who would flip a switch to kill you and yours tomorrow if the opportunity presented itself.

        • 0 avatar
          SPPPP

          So, Retrocrank, do you see any irony in your own response to these two situations?

          – You try to enter a discussion board reply on a mobile device. It fails in unexpected ways. You say, “Well, my fault for trusting this flaky technology in an attempt to save a little effort.” Nobody dies.

          – A Tesla owner tries to summon a self-guided 2-ton piece of heavy machinery through a mobile device. Results? As yet unknown. Retrocrank says, “I am sure it will be fine.”

          Irony?

    • 0 avatar
      Robotdawn

      Are these “really smart and attentive engineers” the same guys who churn out all these wonderful apps on my phone and computers that work about 90% of the time and frequently have basic features missing that any 10 year old who lived outside of Silicon Valley would have added?
      This whole Sheldon trope that these guys are all super duper smart people we should all be assuming know everything needs to die. These engineers are the same normal human beings who piss you off in traffic every day because they missed the day common sense was to be installed in their brains.

  • avatar
    Fred

    It’s like most things in this world, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not. Yin and yang I suppose. Even the NTSB can’t decide if autonomous vehicles are good or bad

    https://systemicfailure.wordpress.com/2019/09/08/ntsb-cant-decide-if-autonomous-vehicles-are-good-or-bad/

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    next time it rains these things are going to be rolling up to every costco entrance in silicon valley. asians hate rain as much as they hate sleeping with a fan on.

  • avatar

    Really,really bad idea.
    Notice the “driver” in first video watching his car,which is a good thing. But he didn’t see the other car til it was almost too late.If the “driver” had been in his vehicle he would have checked for oncoming traffic and wouldn’t have nosed out.
    So if approaching an intersection the Tesla operator has to either take his eyes off his car or just hope another vehicle going thru an intersection will stop in time.

  • avatar
    Fliggin_De_Fluge

    “How hard is it to walk over and get into your own car and drive off” Considering most people cant be asked to spare any attention from the pretty flickering lights and constant stream of garbage on their smartphones, that one needs no answer.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    I seem to recall there might be a science aimed at answering questions like this. Yes, now that I think about it, I’m sure there is.

    It’s called statistics.

  • avatar
    JRobUSC

    Wonder what the car would do when summoned across a parking lot that has mini parking blocks at the head of each parking space. Would it try to drive over the parking blocks?

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    The idea of this feature appeals to me, but if it is basically a glorified full-scale radio control vehicle at this point, the feature is not ready to be released.

    Having said that, my *most* terrifying parking lot experiences lately have been millennials (or younger) driving:
    – in parking lots
    – way too fast
    – around blind corners
    – with limited visibility
    – *while staring at their phone*

    Yes, I mean all of those at the same time. I don’t think they realized I was there *at all*.

    • 0 avatar
      formula m

      My most terrifying realization is the the amount of Baby Bummers who have a bad neck/back and feel that blind spot monitors compensate for them having to turn their head to look around.

  • avatar
    thejohnnycanuck

    So if you get stuck behind one of these things while exiting a parking lot are you just expected to put your life on hold while it moves at roughly the same velocity as an octogenarian using a walker?

    And when that happens I really really hope I’m in my ugly old F-250.

  • avatar
    dwford

    So now the rest of us have to literally be terrorized by any moving Tesla, hoping the eagle eyed owner can see us and stop the car?? What could go wrong?

  • avatar
    chris724

    Self Driving Car! (Warning: Car is not actually self driving.)

  • avatar
    TimK

    Dumb move for Tesla. Navigating a busy parking lot, even at low speed, is difficult for human drivers. Nothing good will come of this “feature”.

  • avatar
    Snooder

    I can think of a common use case that would be super handy. When some jerk parks too close.

    Think about it. How often have you gotten back to your car and the guy to the left is practically touching your door. Major hassle to squeeze your way in, right?

    But what if you could stand not that far away and have the car back itself enough before you get in? That would be worth it, and especially if the reverse was available to. Where you could get out and have the car park itself in even the tightest spots.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Is this even fleshed out legally? Won’t local municipalities weigh in on this at some point?

    • 0 avatar
      thejohnnycanuck

      Interesting point. Many cars can already park themselves but the driver still has to be behind the wheel. Most parking lots are also private property and not considered public roads.

      It’s going to take an incident before we start to question the legality. For better or for worse this is Tesla we’re talking about so it’s likely to happen sooner rather than later.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Unfortunately You are probably right.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          So far, from what I can tell watching several videos, is that it just stops when there is a potential problem. That isn’t always enough. Sometimes you have to make an attempt to evade a collision even if you aren’t at fault. Let’s say a Tesla is backing up and right behind it across the aisle, another car is backing up. The Tesla will probably just stop. The problem is that the other human-driven car doesn’t see that it’s now sticking out. The Tesla might need to retreat and at a speed fast than 5 mph. Instead, it might just sit there and get hit. Not even sure if there’s a feature on the controls to tell the car to go back right now. Just an armchair quarterbacking observation. I haven’t tried the system so I don’t know for sure.

          • 0 avatar
            Jagboi

            It will be annoying if you’re in a car trying to back out and there is a stopped, indecisive Tesla boxing you into your spot while it’s owner decides what to do. I wonder how many will get trailer hitch indents in the side at F350 bumper height?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I can’t understand those who paid for the future full self driving capability.

    That feature may never work, and I doubt it will pass legal muster once accidents begin to happen.

  • avatar
    scottcom36

    How are insurance companies going to be willing to cover for such foolishness? Tesla may well end up having to insure them all themselves.

    • 0 avatar
      retrocrank

      Ultimately the insurance companies will drive the answer to this question. If self-drivers result in bigger dividends, you can bet you’ll be seeing your car insurance rates for self-drivers go through the roof. Conversely, if the self-drivers are a hazard, you won’t be able to buy insurance at a feasible price.

  • avatar
    retrocrank

    Ultimately the insurance companies will drive the answer to this question. If self-drivers result in bigger dividends, you can bet you’ll be seeing your car insurance rates for self-drivers go through the roof. Conversely, if the self-drivers are a hazard, you won’t be able to buy insurance at a feasible price.

  • avatar
    Ermel

    Just a question of time until someone gets hurt and the feature gets banned or crippled.

    Then again, how many kids die under the wheels of reversing full-size pickups? (I honestly have no idea, that’s why I’m asking.) Any plans to ban or cripple those?

    To answer your question, people at the wheel tend to terrify me more than self-driving Teslas do. Not all of them, or even most, but at least one per day does.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    This is potentially cool, but even as a limited government sort this is the sort of thing I do expect my Government to step up and have some sort of standards/accreditation for. We have planes flying themselves into the ground and these cars driving themselves into things on occasion. I’m not saying this shouldn’t exist, but I do expect a very cautious approach. I can’t have a low hoodline in the name of pedestrian safety so I expect a lot of independent testing here. I’ve yet to see that and that concerns me.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    This sounds like a good gimmick, but not a safe one given the average reliability of consumer electronics. My Dell laptop (<1 year old) locks up and crashes multiple times per week. I can reboot my computer when it crashes but a car is a bit different. My wife's car (again <1 year old and a recent redesign) gives false parking proximity warning signals when the completely unexpected happens… like snow on the bumper or windshield. I guess there is a reason most of these self-driving car program take place in Arizona beside that state's near lack of regulation on the matter.

    I don't want to sound like a total anti-technology hermit, I am not, but this all seems to moving too fast and with little oversight

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      In fairness, places like Arizona were just the beginning. Uber is running a fleet of Volvos around the City of Pittsburgh where I live, which has notoriously terrible roads, all weather conditions, and countless construction areas and confusing signage. Another recent article mentioned Delhi, India as a great test case.

      The self-driving companies know how hard this is to achieve. They won’t be able to declare SAE Level 4 or 5 until it truly doesn’t need a vigilant driver – *all the time*. You can’t say your car meets Level 4 only when the weather is nice, or when the driver can resume control, because that’s not Level 4 autonomy – it’s Level 2.

      So I think the near dates they keep promoting are for the shareholders, but they are not reality.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        Pittsburgh, for folks who have never been there, is incredibly hilly with very old roads that snake and wind around said hills. These old roads can have utility poles placed right at road side, were you to have a moment of inattention, you could have your very own phone pole in your windshield.

        When I was dating my wife, I would drive the roads around the South Hills with hardly a care. Having lived in different parts of the US (and the Upper Midwest for the last 21 years alone), it was somewhat eye opening to drive 51 and 88 last week; I’d forgotten what those roads are like.

        If the autonomous cars can navigate those roads correctly, that would be a good start. But I have to believe that there’s a lot more localized data that needs collected first…

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      “My Dell laptop (<1 year old) locks up and crashes multiple times per week."

      Historically the Windows image they put on consumer grade laptops is somewhere between bloated and complete garbage. I generally buy used Thinkpads install the O/S from scratch (usually Windows, occasionally a Linux distro), if your problem becomes unbearable it may be wise to purchase your own copy of Windows and reinstall (or look into a Linux distro).

      "My wife's car (again <1 year old and a recent redesign) gives false parking proximity warning signals when the completely unexpected happens"

      I have similar problems with the safety system on my new car. It doesn't happen often but if it were to persist I would just disable the feature.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    Tesla: Keeping The ‘Fat’ In ‘Fatuous’.

    Walk to your [email protected] car.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    Seems like a nothingberder. My friend’s minivan can park itself…but can’t unpark itself, much to her consternation when it’s gotten itself into a tighter space than she’d have tried on her own, or when someone has replaced the original neighbor and parked so uncomfortably close that her car is thinking of calling HR. This just seems like the “unpark” feature when someone’s parked their waftable brougham over the line into your stall. Given that the summoned Tesla moves at a snail’s pace and you’ve got to keep your finger on the button, I don’t see people having the patience to use it for much more.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Imagine trying to collect from Tesla insurance when your car gets bunged up in the lot by a robo-taxi Tesla. Will it send you a note (based on your license plate) of instructions to contact the company?

  • avatar
    R Henry

    While the American system of tort lawsuits gets abused all too often, I look forward to learning of product liability attorneys suing the bejesus out of Tesla for releasing this defective product. This product will no doubt result in substantial damages for a large number of Tesla owners and motorist unlucky enough to be struck by a Tesla. As such Tesla will richly deserve its due penalties.


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