On Friday night, Tesla Motors began downloading Version 7.1 of its Autopilot software over the internet. On Saturday morning, Tesla owners in North America woke up to find their cars had acquired a new talent overnight. They can drive themselves, at speeds up to 1 mph, either forward or backward for up to 39 feet with no actual human being in the car.
Known as the Summon feature, it makes it possible for a Tesla to park itself in a garage all by itself, close the garage door, and wait patiently for its owner to call for it. Then it will open the garage door and exit the garage, shutting the door behind itself. It’s not quite the Second Coming, but it will give Tesla owners an excuse to post a bazillion videos of their cars going (slowly) in and out of garages all over the world.
One of them was made by Teslarati’s Electric Jen, who was one of the first to post a video of her Model S putting on a display of its new found Summon function. The feature allows the Tesla to park in any perpendicular parking space, even ones that are too narrow to allow the doors to open. Now, as long as the owner is within 10 feet of the car, it can travel up to 39 feet straight ahead or straight back. Why anyone would want to park a car that costs more than $100,000 in a space so narrow it practically guarantees getting its doors dinged remains a mystery, but if you want to, now you can.
Tesla warns that the car cannot detect narrow objects, like bicycles, along the walls of the garage or objects hanging from the rafters, like kayaks. It also cannot “see” objects on the ground that aren’t higher than fascia, like a skateboard. So owners will have to “Tesla-proof” their garages before using the Summon feature.
The Version 7.1 download comes with lots of other features and functionality upgrades as well. They are the items highlighted in blue in the photo below. The most notable is a new speed restriction that comes into play when the Autopilot self-driving mode is active. From now on, while traveling on residential streets with no barrier between traffic lanes, the car will not go more than 5 mph over the posted speed limit. This change is in response to several idiots who made videos of themselves doing ridiculously dangerous things while their cars were in Autopilot mode. Elon Musk’s wonderful machines have now been programmed to override human stupidity, and not a moment too soon.
The rest of the software tweaks are not nearly so spectacular but offer useful upgrades. The display screen in front of the driver will now show multiple vehicles ahead and can represent them as either cars. trucks, or motorcycles. The trip advisor will now show whether a nearby SuperCharger location is active or closed for maintenance. All four door handles no longer present themselves when the owner approaches. Now, one press of a button activates the driver’s door handle. Pressing twice activates all four. The change is to calm the fears of some drivers that an unauthorized person could gain entrance to the interior of the car if all four handles operate automatically in unison.
It’s possible to pooh pooh the changes as minor tweaks that are hardly worth all the blather and ballyhoo. But that misses the point, which is that Tesla is currently the only company that listens to what its customers say they want, then constantly updates its cars’ software wirelessly via the internet rather than requiring a trip to the dealer. That way, every car ever built is kept fully up to date technologically, even it is several years old. That’s a huge advancement over what is the norm in the industry.
It won’t be long before a Tesla owner can step out of the car and instruct it to go find an available charger, plug itself in, then proceed to an available parking space after it is fully charged. It’s coming sooner than you think.