Tesla Smart Summon Bonanza — 7 Races

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Tesla Smart Summon was all the rage for a few days on Tesla Twitter and Tesla YouTube. For one obvious reason — it’s fun! More thoughtfully (putting on my serious face), it’s an amazing step forward toward door-to-door fully self-driving Teslas. That’s at least half the excitement — what it indicates is coming, much more than what is here today.

As soon as Smart Summon rolled out, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of Tesla owners were eager to see what Smart Summon could do and what its limitations were. That included me, a new Tesla buddy of mine, and a friend of his who happened to be in town at the Supercharger where we had decided to meet.

You may recognize David Havasi’s face from a previous, short video we produced together. On that day, or in a subsequent meeting we had (I don’t remember exactly), we decided to meet up again sometime to do some Smart Summon racing and other tests. It may now be long after Smart Summon’s viral moment ended, but the tech is still fascinating and fun, and hopefully our races/tests in the video below are interesting to some of you as well.

Responding to one of my wife’s articles about a fun Smart Summon video we created with our dauhgters, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted, “Several finesse improvements coming to Smart Summon in coming weeks. Will be smooth as silk.” So, don’t take the results of these tests to be important in the long run, but I think it is worth viewing where the tech is today, and also bookmarking the beginning of what will surely be a long process of innovation and improvement.

We conducted 7 Smart Summon races between Tesla vehicles in the course of approximately 3 hours, with some of that time dedicated to breaks for other work, an interview (in the video above), and to change locations a couple of times. I’ll summarize the races briefly below, as well as a few of our observations of how the tech works. In the middle of the races, I interviewed David about the transition from Tesla Autopilot’s first unveiling, which David attended as a Tesla employee and realized was precisely 5 years (to the day) before the day of this recording. I also talked to a few construction workers who had come over to the street after noticing that something funky was going on in the mall parking lot. Both side chats were interesting to me, and I think they nicely break up the racing footage.

By the way, if you want to guess which Tesla vehicle wins each of the first 4 races, be sure to open the video, click the “i” icon in the top right, and vote in the polls before reading on.

Race #1: Whoops

The first race was, frankly, the only clear idea we had planned before the day started. The idea was simple: race the cars from one end of a parking area to another. The cars were facing each other and both needed to turn east and then go through a somewhat narrow passageway to get to the finish line, so the key would seem to be getting a lead right at the beginning. My white Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus did that … but then things turned dark for little “Moonhopper.”

I was standing next to the camcorder that recorded this show, and after I saw Moonhopper get rolling, I turned around and started walking toward David at the finish line. What I clearly didn’t notice until it was too late is that taking a shortcut across the median and sidewalk was not a smart move in the midst of a Smart Summon race. The car tried to follow me through the shortcut until it realized a curb was there. When I turned around, I saw a nearly trapped Moonhopper in the corner of the parking space.

I had to walk around to the other side of the first leg of the race to get my car out of the corner, but alas, it was too late — David’s “Moonfarter” (I don’t actually know the name of David’s car, but I figure this will do) had clinched the race. No amount of blocking his car by walking in front of it could get my car in the leading position again. David had a well deserved win, following the age-old lesson of “slow and steady wins the race.”

Race #2: Slick

This race idea was an interesting one David dreamt up. We lined our cars up face to face, each of us stood behind the other person’s car, and then we started summoning our cars using the “Come to Me” feature (actually, we used this feature for all of the races). The burning question was: how would the two cars being summoned handle a situation in which they were basically supposed to be driving through each other to get to their grinning owners?

I thought the result would be a lot more stop & go driving, with the cars skittishly and slowly trying to get around each other. However, the result was super smooth, so smooth that I’m convinced Tesla very obsessively tested this precise scenario and tailored the algorithms in part to come up with a seamless solution to this conundrum.

After a short start & stop at the beginning, David’s Model 3 Long Range RWD clearly showed it was the alpha car (in this scenario at least), creeping around Moonhopper as it froze in place and waited for a right of way.

I think David and I were pretty shocked at how smoothly that face-off scenario was resolved and how quickly the cars got to us.

Race #3: Normal Parking Lot Pathways

In the third race, we started our cars from more distant portions of the parking area, stood on opposite ends again, and watched how the cars navigated the road space to get to us. In this case, it seems that David’s car took a while to get rolling. By the time our cars were near each other, they were in a straightaway. For whatever reason, perhaps because it wasn’t as straightened out, perhaps because it was going slower, or perhaps because there were cars on its right side as well as mine on its left, Farthopper — whoops, I mean … Moonfarter paused for Moonhopper to go by. I finally got a win!

5 Years to the Day — Autopilot Reveal to Smart Summon Racing

It was at that point that we decided to relocate to a larger parking lot where we could do a handful of other races. Beforehand, though, I wanted to interview David about his thoughts on how things changed between the reveal of Tesla Autopilot and the arrival of Smart Summon. David somehow realized while answering that question that it was actually 5 years prior, to the day, that Tesla hosted the Autopilot event. I won’t spoil his commentary (or my interjections). Watch from 3:43 to 20:33 to listen to that chat.

Race #4: Valet Teslas

If you caught that first video David and I made, you know the concept of this race. On two sides of the UTC shopping mall in Sarasota, Florida, there are little drop-off and pick-up zones that are separated from the normal parking areas by medians. In that first video, we were on one side of the mall and filmed David summoning his car in a way that it had to navigate through the parking lot like a snake. In this race, we were on the other side and simply tried to summon our cars from parking spaces near the middle of the median (but a bit further down that parking aisle), to the median, around the median, and then to the drop-off/pick-up spot. We were also finally joined by the Model X. (The X owner was previously with us but was filming rather than racing.)

This track was so much fun that we decided to loop it two times. Well, either that or I just thought I’d take a victory lap and the others followed.

The whole route was not covered perfectly by the limited camera visibility, but you can see the initial approach from one angle and then can see the path to the drop-off/pick-up zone from that second position and a spanning camera.

You can see the cars drove this route quite smoothly, just going a bit slowly and cautiously — like your average long-retired Floridian. 😉

Somewhat hilariously, just after the 22:30 marker, David’s Model 3 is pulling up behind me and some construction equipment makes a banging sound just as his car is stopping and my Model 3 is slowly leaving again. No, that was not coordinated at all. 😀

Construction Workers Question Me

At the 25 minute marker, you can see four construction workers standing nearby and staring at my car. They had left the construction site in the background to see what was happening and to learn more. I brought the camera over to them to capture their reactions on video. Questions concerned matters other than Smart Summon.

I think that whole segment, which I left in for this reason, is a good example of how the Smart Summon feature can grab people’s attention, lead to questions about the car, and surely lead to countless purchases around the world.

Races #5–7: Smart Summon Drag Race

We then left that somewhat busy area near the entrance and ventured off to a nearly empty, quiet, safe space for a three-vehicle drag race. We lined up Moonfarter, the blue Model X, and Moonhopper to see which vehicle would win in a “straight sprint.” As it turned out, it was more of a race (or 3) between Moonfarter and the Tesla Model X, since my phone kept freezing up (from overheating, ironically, which is not uncommon for my old iPhone in the Florida heat). Even when it didn’t freeze up (toward the end) it seems that Moonhopper may have delayed driving to me until it had a path to the actual driving area of the parking aisle. I think it didn’t want to drive across the white lines of the parking spaces.

As a final point, I find it quite pretty how the cars sometimes smoothly glide around each other, in a wave-like motion. There is something genuinely elegant about Smart Summon at times, and I presume that will be the case more and more as the software improves.

The Best Part

At 33 minutes into this 47 minute video, we started perhaps my favorite part of the show. At first, David sat in the back of the Model X (on a mattress, since the owner, Chris, had been doing some sleeping in it) and then summoned his car as Chris drove. It was interesting to see how the Model 3 followed the X, and that it decided to take a short cut to David if the X got too far along the loop they were traveling on.

At 36:03 in, after my phone had charged a bit, I hopped into the back of the X as well and we both summoned our cars as Chris drove the X around. You just have to watch that part — for 11 minutes.

If you’d like to buy a Tesla Model 3, Model S, or Model X and want 1,000 miles of free Supercharging, feel free to use my referral code: https://ts.la/zachary63404 — or use someone else’s if you have a friend or family member with a Tesla. I won’t cry.

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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