When Tesla announced last month that it would push out a software upgrade to allow Model S owners to park their electric car in a garage or perpendicular spaces without anyone behind the wheel, it was seen as yet another step toward a fully autonomous vehicle. That was until researchers found the new “Summon” mode contained a small safety issue.
Our intrepid colleagues over at Consumer Reports, who were quick to test Summon after it was announced in mid-January, found that while the feature was easy to use, it lacked some safeguards to protect drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.
Summon, which allows owners to park from outside the car as long as the sedan is within 33 feet of a garage or narrow space, is operated when a user is within 10 feet of the car and engages a key fob or the Tesla app.
While the operation is fairly straightforward, CR found that the feature lacked controls to stop the car from moving forward after it was engaged.
Under the current system, when summoning the vehicle with the key fob or the app, you don’t have to constantly hold down the Summon button. That means if you dropped the fob or closed the Tesla app, the car would continue to move on its given path, up to 33 feet.
“This is a low safety risk, but it’s an unnecessary risk,” Jake Fisher, auto test director for CR said in a video about the issue.
Although the Tesla’s Summon feature occurs at a very low-speed and is stopped when the vehicle detects an obstacle, as described to users when enabling the feature, there are certain situations in which the vehicle won’t stop for something in its way.
For example, CR found that the car’s sensors contained blind spots that missed some objects that were either narrow or positioned low to the ground.
When parked in Summon mode, the car did not stop for a duffel bag or a child’s bicycle. It also damaged a wheel when pulling into the garage.
Fisher tells Consumerist that CR brought its concerns to Tesla, and within days the carmaker said it would issue another software update to fix the safety issues.
The update, expected to hit cars by the end of the week, will limit the Summon feature to the smartphone app, requiring users to keep their finger on the button to engage it.
“We’ve found a lot of problems with cars in the past,” Fisher says. “Often that means a recall or a timeframe in which the maker has to get the cars fixed. In this situation they were able to fix all the vehicles in the field by end of the week.”
Tesla owners awaiting the update and planning to use Summon in the meantime should follow Tesla’s guidelines, Fisher says, keeping an eye on the vehicle at all times as it backs in or pullout of a space.