Sun, Oct 13, 2019 - Page 16 News List

Teslas come when called,
but can fray nerves

Tesla’s broad rollout of its ‘Smart Summon’ feature could be one of the most ambitious ever, and was used more than 550,000 times within days of becoming available

By Julie Jammot  /  AFP, SAN FRANCISCO

A man drives his Tesla Inc electric car out of an all-electric vehicle parking lot in Oslo on May 3.

Photo: AFP

Roddie Hasan loves his Tesla, but after a fright using a feature that lets him summon the vehicle as he might a dog, he says he plans to walk to it from now on.

The electric vehicle maker, a contender in the technology race to fully self-driving vehicles, last month issued a software update that included a “Smart Summon” feature for having Teslas go to owners instead of the other way around.

A smartphone app acts as a remote control, and Tesla Inc advised owners to keep their vehicles in sight the whole time.

Stepping from a pizzeria into a quiet parking lot, Hasan decided to “summon” his Tesla Model 3.

He watched as the vehicle eased out of its stall and headed in his direction.

As his Tesla neared an intersection, Hasan noticed a vehicle coming quickly from another direction on what appeared to be a collision course.

Hasan jerked his finger from a button on the Tesla smartphone app.

The vehicle halted, which he credits to either his action or onboard autopilot capabilities.

“In the end, I do not know if my car stopped by itself or if it’s me who stopped it,” Hasan said. “I don’t want to try that kind of scenario again, so I’m just going to wait a little bit.”

He shared video of his summon feature experiment on Twitter, triggering a flood of comments from Tesla critics and fans, along with some who wondered why he did not simply walk to his vehicle.

Other manufacturers have added features that allow a vehicle to park itself and return to the owner, but Tesla’s broad rollout could be one of the most ambitious to date.

RAIN AND CHILDREN director of vehicle testing Dan Edmunds was troubled by what he saw in video clips shared online by Hasan and others, even though countless cases of the summon feature working just fine have probably not been similarly put on display.

“I don’t like using members of the public as development engineers,” Hasan said of Tesla owners being de facto testers of the new feature.

“Doing it this way might be fine for a phone app, but for a vehicle that’s going to be coexisting with cars on the highway and pedestrians ... it’s unimaginable to me.”

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

Tesla cofounder and chief executive officer Elon Musk tweeted last week that Smart Summon had been used more than 550,000 times within days of becoming available.

Musk has expressed confidence that next year Tesla would launch a “robo-taxi” platform that would let self-driving vehicles provide people rides on demand.

Smart Summon is considered a step toward Teslas being able to operate without need of human drivers.

“I have kids, so to be able to call the car, when it’s raining outside or you have a bunch of bags, it’s nice to get the car coming to you,” said John Stringer, president of Silicon Valley’s Tesla Owners Club. “It’s the next-closest thing before full self-driving, the car being to make its way through the parking lot.”

The California-based company’s vehicles boast “autopilot” capabilities, but at a level for use on highways only and with someone in the driver’s seat to take control if needed.

“If I had to choose between the two features, I prefer autopilot; it changed my life on daily basis,” Stringer said. “When you get home, you’re tired of long day at work, and you still need to unwind after driving for an hour — but now I unwind from day of work in my car.”

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