But according to at least one expert, Smart Summon doesn’t mean that Tesla is close to doing what CEO Elon Musk has promised: unleashing a fleet of self-driving robot taxis by the end of next year. “If Tesla is having some trouble in an uncontrolled situation [like a parking lot], and that [Smart Summon] feature is far from perfection, then Tesla having full self-driving cars at the end of next year? I can only laugh at that,” says Raj Rajkumar, who studies autonomous technology at Carnegie Mellon University.
One large hurdle for Tesla’s self-driving ambitions is driving speed, says Rajkumar. For a summon feature, the vehicle’s sensors only need to be able to “see” a few dozen feet away. At slow parking-lot speeds—around 5 mph—that limitation might be OK. But at faster speeds, vehicles cover meters in matters of seconds.
Building a car that can quickly “see” and then “react” to sudden road obstacles—something that fell off the back of a truck, or a person—might be a matter of life or death.