On September 27, Tesla rolled out its biggest software update to date, Software Version 10.0, for its lineup of automobiles. In it, a key feature called Smart Summon, which remotely hails your Tesla to pick you, was publicly made available. Since then, the feature has been in the news across the internet with people being both surprised by its eeriness and skeptical about its safety in a variety of situations. A video by NBC News posted by the YouTube channel "TODAY" outlines the controversy surrounding the feature.
Now, in an emailed statement, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the U.S. road-safety regulator, has claimed that it is aware of the concerns and "will not hesitate to act" if it finds Smart Summon to be disrupting safety (via Bloomberg).
This is after the Department of Motor Vehicles in California concluded that Smart Summon is not subject to the agency's regulations pertaining to autonomous vehicles. A spokesman for the department, Marty Greenstein, corroborated with the state policy that automobile manufacturers do not need permission to introduce new features to their vehicles that otherwise meet the federal auto safety standards:
“Tesla does not need a permit to deploy the feature in California. As with any new technology, the DMV indicated to Tesla that clear and effective communication to the driver about the technology’s capabilities and intended use is necessary.”
But this certainly does not signal clear waters for Tesla as the authority has the power to recall features and systems that present safety risks.
Furthermore, Tesla has explicitly stated on its blog post announcing Smart Summon that customers must remain cautious of the need for emergency measures while the car is navigating towards them and that "those using Smart Summon must remain responsible for the car and monitor it and its surroundings at all times." This perhaps is a precursor to the company being aware of the corollaries of the feature.
On the other hand, Elon Musk, the co-founder of Tesla, recently tweeted about Smart Summon being the company's most viral feature yet. after it was used more than 550,000 times within the first few days following its general availability.
We are not sure how the future of Tesla's Smart Summon will pan out since it's still early days for the feature. Perhaps this is a prime example of "with great power comes great responsibility."