Like it or not, things in this world are typically black and white. The pros hate the cons and the cons hate the pros. In order to succeed, you’re advised to choose a side and help push that narrative. Those who sit in the middle are simply frowned upon by both. Me? I choose to speak the truth — my truth. Without further ado, here’s my unbiased Tesla Smart Summon thoughts and review. Spoiler alert: it’s not good.
Disclosure: I am currently positively invested in TSLA and own a Model S. Opinions expressed in this article are not one of a die-hard fan nor a close-minded skeptic. Rather, they are those of an average consumer. At least that’s what I tell myself.
Formally known as Enhanced Summon, Tesla’s Smart Summon is the last feature to be added to the previous Enhanced Autopilot package. Smart Summon currently sits as one of the first of many Full Self-Driving package features. In Tesla’s path towards self-driving cars and robotaxis, the feature is meant to aid you in public parking lots as well as complicated driveways. Your car backs out of its spot and arrives at your assigned destination without a driver present. This means having your car arrive right before your feet in front of stores, saving you the walk. As is with most tech, the future entails reserving effort and making your life easier.
I went into this with hopes of creating a compilation to balance out the negativity and shade currently being thrown this way. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been so optimistic. When reality struck, I was simply embarrassed.
I’d like to say Tesla jumped the gun with their introduction of Smart Summon, but the feature was actually released almost a full year after its expected spotlight. While in the hands of early access members for some time now, you’d imagine the majority of kinks have been worked out. While I’m positive many have, we are a long way from completion.
Unlike many, I took a couple of days to put Tesla Smart Summon to the test. Nearly 100 trials were ran in two days, all in different scenarios. It would be optimistic to say there was a single perfect run worthy of praise. One has to think, how many clips were shot for those Tesla forward twitter videos depicting the perfect scenario?
On the other side of things, not one stood out as a catastrophe. My car came out unscathed, which is impressive in itself. Those compilation videos showing Tesla Smart Summon failures under the limelight are just as misrepresenting. Fact of the matter is it’s not bad, but it’s not good, either.
Does it work? Yes. Is it cool? Yes. Am I going to sell you on it? Absolutely not.
If there’s one thing Smart Summon is, it’s upsetting. While sitting there waiting for my car to struggle across a half empty parking lot, not only am I embarrassed for myself, but also the approximately half a million other Tesla owners currently using this feature. With 550,000 uses in the first couple of days, you’d imagine this theoretical neural net would teach these cars to drive in a straight line by now. Millions of corner cases, sure, I get it. But there aren’t nearly a million corners in a straight line within an empty parking lot.
Watching my car gently rolling on pavement as if it’s playing pong with a group of pigeons is truly a sight to behold, but I just wish it was one I didn’t find so wholeheartedly exhausting. It’s as if I’m watching my grandmother take her first driving lesson with an intoxicated Jack Sparrow as her instructor. Spectators assume a child is at the wheel while holding stronger regards to self-driving cars.
One thing it certainly doesn’t do is crash. After extensive testing, I have built much confidence in its accident avoidance capabilities. The system is just too sensitive to be at fault. It seemingly avoids even microscopic obstacles with ease. My car was seen avoiding and using puddles, of all things, as guidelines.
While awareness is undeniably a benefit, it’s also one of Smart Summon’s biggest issues. The feature is just too sensitive, ultimately resulting in unnecessary corrections and pauses. Any parked car in a row that happens to protrude slightly will cause an obstruction as the Tesla will stop and assume that the car is backing out. It’s nearly impossible to get a run in a filled lot where the car doesn’t needlessly stop at random points. I just sit back and watch my Tesla play chicken with a parked car.
Through my tests I quickly discovered the car’s lack of ability to read both lines and map data accurately. Somehow using Tesla Smart Summon in an empty parking lot is more stressful than in one filled with cars and pedestrians. The car profusely ignored the majority of lane markings and traffic signs. I’m still not confident in whether or not the couple of times it actually stopped at a stop sign was intentional or read as a false positive. Without physical barriers, the car is given free realm to skirt around and over lines and intersections. Worst of all, it seems to ignore map data and rely mostly on its own visuals.
When you close your eyes and imagine a future stuffed with self-driving cars, you paint a life of leisure. Resting in your backseat watching Disney+ to get your last second glimpse of happiness before arriving to your dreaded day job. While that could very well be our future, we have quite a ways to go before it can become a reality. The road ahead is paved with accidents, arguments, and a rise in my temper. I’ll either get gray hairs from watching this play out or naturally from the time it takes us to get there. We are far from it.
One would imagine that with years of Autopilot data at the helm, we could navigate an empty parking lot by now. You’ll rarely hear a complaint in regards to Autopilot from me. Its current state is just about as near to perfection as I’m okay with. NoA has a few rough edges, but we have seen optimal improvements throughout this year. Who knows, maybe Autopilot works so much better because it takes more risk while assuming someone is constantly at the wheel willing to take over. Summon could very well be more cautious due to no one being in the car. Maybe we just haven’t found that sweet spot of risk taking yet. It all just has me wondering, why would this company release such a half-baked product?
I get it, we aren’t just beta testers, we are also training the system. But at what point has it gone too far? I shouldn’t have to crash my car to tell the system that crashing is a no-no. Some of these causes for concern are just so dumbfounding.
In all fairness, when daddy Tesla birthed my car, she came out with Autopilot 2.5. The present hardware, 3.0, is set to be upwards of 10x faster in terms of image processing power. Tesla is calling this its FSD Computer. This could drastically alter the outcome but I’ve yet to see mention of a visible difference nor have I had the opportunity to compare first hand.
With this newfound power, the majority of my issues could potentially be resolved, eventually. Many claim Tesla as a software company over a manufacturer and adaptation and improvements to features such as this stress that viewpoint. With time, we will certainly see the road paved and painted.
Am I upset about Smart Summon’s current state? Nope. It’s a start, and a start is all we need. Interpret this as you will, I am neither bitter nor settled, just a bit perplexed. I’d hoped that we’d be further along in development by now. It was all a good idea while it was just an idea.
Just as Autopilot did years ago, this marks a new beginning for something great. While Elon claims Autopark capability will be added to the feature within a month, I mock. Tesla has never been great with deadlines nor have their products come out of the gate perfect, but the company time and time again has proven that they can and will improve as they continue to push forward in the right direction. Smart Summon, Enhanced Summon, Bumper Car Feature, whatever you want to call it, isn’t perfect, but it’s here.
“I could either watch it happen or be part of it.”