Smart Summon is here! And so is the FUD. Should Tesla do anything about it?

Tesla Smart Summon in action. (Credit: Rody Davis/YouTube)

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Tesla’s Smart Summon is out on beta release and, as expected from videos previously published by Early Access Program participants, it’s still learning how to be as amazing as it hopes to eventually be.

Hands down, the feature is ridiculously cool and (dare I say it) finally delivering on some of the sci-fi movie promises over the decades that dangled sans-human, self-driving cars in front of our imaginations. However, Smart Summon is also being birthed into a somewhat hostile media environment that has a vendetta against its maker, particularly its CEO. Perhaps a college psychology class could (or has already) taken a dive into why people like Elon Musk inspire so much detraction and (dare I say this as well) “fake news.” But, regardless of what causes the disease, the symptoms are what they are. Have a look at this NBC Today Show headline from a segment they did and published on YouTube:

“Tesla’s Smart Summon Feature Is Causing Parking Lot Chaos.”

I hate to be a whattabout-ist, but I could do a similar video every time Microsoft forces some sort of mandatory update to my Outlook email program. “But, that’s not the same as a car hitting a person!” one might cry. Au contraire, my friend. Whereas Smart Summon is a beta release and users are warned to monitor their car’s activity using the feature, i.e., the human in charge is ultimately responsible for any bad actions just as if they were behind the wheel, Microsoft’s updates are not beta releases and impact businesses, governments, and even emergency services worldwide. The old ‘follow the money’ phrase isn’t just for political foes. If Microsoft screws up someone’s ability to do their job, someone, somewhere, could be suffering.

Does this seem silly? I hope so, because it’s supposed to be silly.

You wouldn’t hold Microsoft responsible for a family’s financial difficulties because an administrator at an insurance company missed an email about their claim thanks to some update to their Outlook that screwed up their organizational system. So, then, why do the media try to hold Tesla (and Musk) responsible for a Smart Summon user that’s not paying attention and lets their car run into a curb or cross a street with active traffic, requiring emergency braking to avoid an accident?

Honestly, those in the Tesla community already know the answer. Aside from making sensational headlines (this is also common with Autopilot-involved accidents), there are interest groups and individuals who actively cheer Tesla’s failure. I can only understand (not condone) the groups that benefit from it financially in one way or another via Wall Street, but the rest is beyond me. Perhaps it’s political, and perhaps that’s just going to be something Tesla will always deal with as part of its politically-tied mission. For what it’s worth, I do understand politics, but I don’t understand cheering the collapse of something that consumers find desirable in the marketplace. But, I digress…

At the end of the day, one can fight against the Smart Summon headlines and become exhausted in the end, or one can focus on making the feature better. Which one can Tesla control? Which one can Tesla owners control? I think Gandhi is quoted a lot on this one – be the change you want to see in the world and so forth. Tesla’s community has a unique advantage in this problem, both because of how responsive Tesla is to its customers and via its frequent and unique over-the-air updates to its vehicle software.

Some Tesla drivers posting on Reddit have noted how huge amounts of data, to the tune of hundreds of megabytes and even gigabytes, have been uploaded to the company’s servers after using Smart Summon. Given that Smart Summon is in beta, this is a really good sign that Tesla is actively working to learn from as much data as it can as quickly as possible to improve the feature. As one part of the battle against negative headlines, if the feature merely fixes most of the indicated issues, there won’t be any issues to report.

Another set of comments I saw floating around on Reddit, other forums, and videos was whether Smart Summon should have communicative aspects while in beta to give a heads-up to other drivers and pedestrians to clear up any confusion in lieu of human driver language.

For instance, if a car stops for a pedestrian and the pedestrian isn’t sure of the car’s intentions, a human driver could wave them along. Not so with Smart Summon. There’s also the fear of a car moving without a driver that gives the impression it’s a runaway vehicle left in neutral gear. Some have suggested hazard lights be used while Smart Summon is activated, others have suggested specific noises or audio announcements. Non-verbal communication is tough, even for humans, so would updates like these help Smart Summon integrate better with humans that aren’t yet accustomed to autonomous cars? Personally, I know I pay attention to the loud beeps coming from a truck that’s reversing, but they are annoying albeit rare.

I’m not so sure overall, but I think it’s at least worth a try.

Smart Summon is here! And so is the FUD. Should Tesla do anything about it?
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