It’s possible that Tesla has achieved another dramatic breakthrough in autonomous car tech: according to a Utah man, his Tesla started itself up and drove under and into a parked trailer, all while unmanned and unattended. It used to take a human to perform such a low-speed, stupid wreck! Impressive.
Salt Lake City TV station KSL reports Jared Overton owns the Darth Vader’d Tesla Model S, and on April 29 parked it behind a big rig-type trailer, the type where the trailer’s main deck was about mid-windshield height.
After talking about his car with an employee of the business he was visiting for 30 seconds to a minute, Overton and the employee entered the building. Five minutes later, when they returned back to the car, they found it with its hood under the trailer, and the windshield and A-pillar smashed into the rear of the trailer.
Overton was baffled, of course, by the fact that his car had attempted a half-ass decapitation, or perhaps a quickly-abandoned plan to become a convertible. He, of course, had many questions, including the odd question he asked KSL:
“What happened with this kind of rogue vehicle?”
Yes, what did happen with this kind of rogue vehicle? He contacted Tesla, makers of that kind of rogue vehicle, who looked at the car’s internal logs and decided that the car’s Summon feature was activated, and that this was all Overton’s fault.
As Tesla said in their letter to Overton,
Tesla has reviewed the vehicle’s logs, which show that the incident occurred as a result of the driver not being properly attentive to the vehicle’s surroundings while using the Summon feature or maintaining responsibility for safely controlling the vehicle at all times...
[the Summon feature] was initiated by a double-press of the gear selector stalk button, shifting from Drive to Park and requesting Summon activation...
This feature will park Model S while the driver is outside the vehicle. Please note that the vehicle may not detect certain obstacles, including those that are very narrow (e.g., bikes), lower than the fascia, or hanging from the ceiling.
As such, Summon requires that you continually monitor your vehicle’s movement and surroundings while it is in progress and that you remain prepared to stop the vehicle at any time using your key fob or mobile app or by pressing any door handle. You must maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle when using this feature and should only use it on private property.
If, as the letter says, the Summon feature has trouble identifying obstacles that are “hanging from the ceiling,” it’s easy to see how the high bed of the trailer could fall into that ceiling-hangar category, at least as far as the car’s ability to sense its environment is concerned.
We do know that the Summon mode does at least try to avoid most obstacles, since we tested it by making our own Raphael Orlove walk in front of a Summonizing Tesla:
Still, even if it was caused by lack of supervision while the car was operating in Summon mode, that still does not answer the question as to why there was that lack of supervision: because Overton claims he never asked the car to be in Summon mode.
The story Overton and the employee he spoke with does not make sense if Tesla is to be believed. According to them, Overton set the car into Summon mode; in Tesla’s letter, the Summon mode was activated three seconds after Overton got out of the car and closed the door.
If they were there both talking around the car for 30 second to a minute, surely they would have noticed the car starting and ramming its head into the trailer. Perhaps Overton essentially butt-dialed the Summon feature from his phone’s Tesla app; even then, the problem is with Tesla, not the owner, as it’s the responsibility of the company to both make the process of summoning as accident-proof as possible, and if the car is going to drive unmanned, it’s their responsibility to give it the means not to run itself into anything or anyone.
Tesla does claim the system is in Beta, and only to be used on private property. That still doesn’t really get them off the hook. Beta software exists so developers can test and learn and improve. So, here’s a nice big test, and in this case, the car failed.
That’s not a reason to blame the owner; that’s a set of data Tesla can use to improve their product.
That, or call it Autonomous A-Pillar Creasing System and knock off early.