The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking at Tesla’s ‘Smart Summon’ feature, an addition to the automaker’s self-driving technology that appears to be as flawed as it is ingenious.
According to Tesla’s promotional materials, Smart Summon allows drivers to use their smartphones to “enable their car to navigate a parking lot and come to them or their destination of choice, as long as their car is within their line of sight.”
While this feature may seem like a dream come true for anyone who has ever struggled to find their car in a crowded parking lot, not all that glitters is gold, according to the NHTSA’s specialists.
The web offers abundant examples of videos posted by Tesla owners that show how Smart Summon causes the vehicles to crash into different objects, as sensors fail to identify them.
Now, the NHTSA is analyzing data about Tesla crashes in parking lots while on Smart Summon mode.
The regulatory agency said that it is well aware of the Smart Summon feature’s problems. “Safety is [our] top priority and the agency will not hesitate to act if it finds evidence of a safety-related defect,” the NHTSA said in a statement.
In response to criticism, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a tweet that, “Smart Summon was released along with Tesla’s newest ‘Version 10’ software update, which includes the note: ‘You are still responsible for your car and must monitor it and its surroundings at all times.’”
While Tesla advises the feature should only be used in private spaces, it is understandable that consumers would use it when their vehicle is parked in public parking lots. Consumer advocacy groups have called for the technology to be banned in public spaces, but they aren’t hopeful.
Jason Levine, a spokesperson for the influential Center for Auto Safety wonders, “Is NHTSA going to successfully get Tesla to send out a new software update? We would be surprised to see that happen.” Levine has referred to Tesla’s habit of “beta [testing]” their new technology “on live human beings who have not agreed to be a part of [their] experiment.”
As this controversy unfolds at home, Tesla’s sales are booming in the European market. The company’s Model 3 is currently the best-selling car in both the Netherlands and Norway.
While it is unlikely that the use of Tesla’s ‘Smart Summon’ will be banned or restricted anytime soon, the company would do well to update the feature to resolve some of its many well-documented failings.