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Tesla's mixed messages on "Smart Summon" confuse the public

The Tesla logo.
Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Social media posts have been popping up in recent days of Tesla owners trying out their car's new "Smart Summon" feature.

Why it matters: As The Verge and others reported, Smart Summon "is already causing chaos in parking lots across America," suggesting the technology isn't ready or people are misusing it.

Details: Smart Summon was released last week as part of Tesla's V10 software update on its Model 3, S and X electric cars.

  • It's another incremental step toward self-driving cars.

How it works: the remote control-like function allows owners to use their smart phone to direct their vehicle to back out of a parking space and navigate up to 200 feet to pick them up.

  • In the announcement, Tesla said the feature could be used as long as the car is within the driver's line of sight.
  • "It's the perfect feature to use if you have an overflowing shopping cart, are dealing with a fussy child, or simply don't want to walk to your car through the rain."

Yes, but: In the V10 release notes, Tesla emphasized that the technology is only intended for use in private parking lots and driveways.

  • "You are still responsible for your car and must monitor it and its surroundings at all times and be within your line of sight because it may not detect all obstacles. Be especially careful around quick moving people, bicycles and cars."

My thought bubble: Tesla is beta-testing features on customers and its statements seem to be encouraging them to use Smart Summon in ways it wasn't intended. Meanwhile, its actions are shaping the public's perception of self-driving cars.

Go deeper: Tesla's next moment under the microscope