Tech’splaining: Tesla Smart Summon

  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

can be reached at christianwardlaw@gmail.com
  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

can be reached at christianwardlaw@gmail.com
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“Now you can skip the walk to the car,” proclaims Tesla in association with Smart Summon, the company’s new autonomous valet feature.

Part of Software Version 10.0, which rolled out at the end of September 2019, Tesla Smart Summon is available as part of the Enhanced Autopilot or Full Self-Driving Capability options for the Model 3, Model S, and Model X. Owners activate Smart Summon using their smartphones and the vehicle will start, leave its parking space and drive to where the owner is waiting.

Smart Summon uses the car’s driver assistance technology to allow an owner to initiate autonomous valet service from their smartphone. (Video: Tesla)

The trouble with high expectations

Initially, Smart Summon sounded better than it actually was. It launched as a beta that immediately began causing problems for Tesla owners. Tesla owners have high expectations for their vehicles, perhaps in part because they don’t really know how various driving assistance features actually work.

According to Tesla, to use Smart Summon the vehicle must be within its owner’s line of sight, and the company specifically says that it is his or her responsibility to check its surroundings before using the technology. This defeats the purpose, does it not? After all, if Smart Summon lets you skip the walk to the car, how are you going to check the car’s surroundings before using the technology?

Naturally, the owner also assumes all responsibility for safe navigation from the parking space to his or her location. “Be prepared to stop the vehicle quickly,” the company advises. Amusingly, Tesla’s video for Smart Summon (above) shows the car traveling the wrong way down a narrow parking lot lane with slant parking. What may have happened if another vehicle entered the lane traveling the correct direction?

Chaos. That’s what.

Tesla’s Smart Summon feature hasn’t worked out so well for some users. (Video: YouTube)

Problems with Tesla Smart Summon

Within weeks of Smart Summon’s debut, critics denounced the technology. National Public Radio (NPR) reported on October 4, 2019, that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had taken notice of the technology and was talking to Tesla about reports of malfunctions.

Consumer Reports, which has an on-again-off-again love affair with Teslas, proclaimed Smart Summon to be “glitchy.”

NBC’s Today Show did a piece that included numerous video clips of Smart Summon fails, including the following situations:

  • Scraped Tesla bodywork where vehicle contacted an obstacle
  • Near-miss collisions with other vehicles in parking lots
  • Traffic tie-ups in parking lots due to stopped, Smart Summoned Teslas
  • A shopper in a parking lot chasing a Smart Summoned Tesla on foot, thinking it was rolling away

2020 Tesla Full Lineup Parked on PavementWhy walk to your parked Tesla, getting some exercise in the process, when you can Smart Summon it? (Photo: Tesla)

Glimpse into the future

Right now, Tesla Smart Summon is more a gimmick than anything else. But, at the same time, it’s also a glimpse into a future where self-driven cars magically show up at the curb to pick you up – and without the chaos. Perhaps the next-generation version of Smart Summon will work with greater accuracy and sophistication. Maybe people will become accustomed to seeing Teslas without drivers. Or possibly we should just walk to our cars, getting exercise in the process.


About the Author

  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

can be reached at christianwardlaw@gmail.com
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