First, sensationalist journalism, unfortunately, earns money. More than I’ll probably get for this article. There have been three widely circulated “instances” of Smart Summon “failing.” I don’t want to directly link the videos or the poorly written articles about them, but I would like to reference them here:
In the first video, someone who is using Tesla Smart Summon to have their car drive over to them in a parking lot has another car back into them. While this is a crappy situation, cars back into others in parking lots with some regularity. It’s happened to me when backing out. Now, a driver that wasn’t using Smart Summon may have seen this and honked, which may have prevented the accident, but that’s not guaranteed. This is the one instance in which Tesla could have potentially done something more on the feature to prevent the accident (self-honking?), and yet the driver backing their car up is clearly the one at fault.
In the second video, a person is bringing their car across a parking lot. In some “news” articles, the parking lot is called an intersection. A fast moving SUV blows into the frame and the Tesla Model 3 slams on the brakes right before hitting the SUV. For this one, two things could have happened — either the driver of the SUV could have been going at a more reasonable speed, or the person summoning the Tesla could have seen the giant car coming and released the button. Nonetheless, a vehicle flying into a parking lot at a fast speed is a risk for both cars driven by humans and cars driven by Smart Summon.
I have Smart Summon on my car, and even when it appears to be doing the right thing, I have released the button to run out and check. I definitely don’t trust it completely yet.
In the third instance, it’s just a photo of a blue Tesla Model 3 in a tweet that is dented directly behind the driver’s side wheel on the front quarter panel. The person tweeting it hadn’t tweeted for four years. In it, he states, “Tried in my empty drive way. Car went forward and ran into the side of garage.”
This should raise instant questions, the biggest one being how is the car dented behind the wheel if the car was moving forward at the time? This is clearly not an issue of the front bumper getting bashed, and there is no photo of the garage in question with a dent. Finally, if my car was getting too close to an object, I would have stopped it and double checked. And so far, every time I have done that, the car is far more clear than I thought it was when I stopped it. I can’t say it didn’t happen, but it definitely raises questions for me.
In summary, in all three of the main “CHAOS!” examples of Smart Summon, there are issues.
Which leads me to a simple conclusion. Based on some rough back-of-the-napkin math, Tesla has delivered about 500,000 vehicles right now with hardware equipped to Smart Summon them. While the last about 250,000 of those were delivered with Autopilot built in, and the features of Smart Summon would have been under the Full Self Driving umbrella, those same features were in the Enhanced Summon package earlier. Let’s assume that only 50,000 cars have the ability to Smart Summon them. And, let’s assume that Smart Summon has only been run an average of once on each of them, so it has run 50,000 attempts.
(And, by the way, I think this is a SUPER low estimate. I tried Smart Summoning my car in four different locations, and usually multiple times so that I would understand what it was like. I would guess it has been summoned 15 times already. If others are alike, the amount of times Smart Summon has been tried would already be a significant magnitude higher than this — it only takes 3,333 cars summoning 15 times to equal my number…)
Of these, we have only seen or heard about three accidents?! And let’s be honest, the media was going to eat up any accidents about Smart Summon. I was purposely looking for issues with it because this is by far Tesla’s riskiest move, and for there to have been potentially thousands of attempts, with only 3 issues, is amazing. That of those three issues, two appeared to have other cars at fault and the other is highly questionable, it means there are actually zero issues that we have of a Tesla running over a kid, or crashing into a storefront, or all these other things it seems the comment sections of all of the above videos are certain are happening constantly.
Is it perfect? Definitely not. I have tried it on my driveway, and the car can not figure out a path to take a proper, 90 degree turn to start pulling out, instead moving itself backwards and forwards over and over while it tries to figure out what to do before stopping completely and just waiting for me to do something.
But is it far better than what it seems many business journalists writing about it want to make you believe? Absolutely.
If it has one flaw that I have seen, it’s still a bit overly timid — one of those times that I was attempting to pull my car out of the driveway, I moved toward it to see what it was doing. I was still a good 15 feet away, and the car indicated a pedestrian was too close and refused to move. In a real circumstance, this wouldn’t have been the case.
But, if it’s going to have an issue, having an overabundance of caution is the best thing it can do.
What do I really think will happen here? In short, we’ll see a few more of these videos, and then Tesla Smart Summon will just keep working as intended, and it won’t become that big of a deal, because it sure seems to be working well. Eventually, the sensationalist headlines will get boring, and the press will move onto other Tesla topics.