Consumer Reports Finds Potentially Fatal Flaw With Tesla Summons Feature, Automaker Promises Immediate Fix – Video

2 years ago by Eric Loveday 76

Tesla 1, Duffel Bag 0

Tesla 1, Duffel Bag 0

Consumer Reports discovered a potentially fatal flaw with Tesla’s Summon mode.

The vehicle’s sensors apparently won’t always detect a low-lying object, which means that while in Summon mode, there’s a chance that the Model S/X could run over a child if the vehicle isn’t stopped by the user.

While that wouldn’t seem problematic, the issue is that if the phone app stops working or if the user happens to drop his/her phone, the car could continue moving, thus potentially running over a low-to-the-ground object.

Consumer Reports writes:

“After Consumer Reports raised safety concerns with Tesla’s Summon mode, the company agreed to add additional protections.”

Tesla says it will implement the necessary safety measures as soon as this week in an effort to avoid risk to those who may be around a summoned Model S/X.

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76 responses to "Consumer Reports Finds Potentially Fatal Flaw With Tesla Summons Feature, Automaker Promises Immediate Fix – Video"

  1. vdiv says:

    Fatal flaw?!

    How is that really different from being inside the car and not paying any attention when pulling in/out of a garage?

    1. Phil says:

      Because when you take your foot off the gas pedal, the car stops moving.

      1. Yup says:

        Cars don’t usually stop when you take your foot off the gas pedal. They creep along at about the same speed as what you were seeing in the video.

        1. ClarksonCote says:

          Given another video showing the car can’t climb a 1 inch piece of wood on a garage floor when in summons mode, I find it hard to believe that it could run over a child. Though I suppose it’s possible.

    2. Phil says:

      And I wouldn’t be so cavalier. My son is about the size of that duffel bag.

      1. Anon says:

        But he’s NOT a duffle bag.

        Bags just sit there, immobile. Silent. Waiting for something to happen to them.

        Children move around. They can make noise, too. Probably much louder than a nearly silent, slow speed EV…

        1. Dan says:

          No they don’t. The whole reason why so much effort was put in to install backup cameras is due to the fact that children sit down and play on driveways.

      2. Jim Whitehead says:

        To prevent running over children and pets, Tesla should consider adding 2 NEW CAMERAS to the front and back undersides. BTW, Tesla has added safety stuff before: the titanium shield to prevent road hazard obstacles and car fires.

    3. Ocean Railroader says:

      Having a self driving car hit someone with no human behind the wheel will most likely be the biggest liability court case of the decade or for the last 50 years.

      1. Stimpy says:

        That case would certainly be a spectacle.

  2. ffbj says:

    Umm, it is a flaw, Tesla agrees and will fix it. Next.

    1. Three Electrics says:

      Someday Tesla might hope to have an internal quality assurance department which is the equal of two guys from Consumer Reports.

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        Someday Tesla might hope to have a stock which isn’t so volatile, so it won’t attract so many Internet trolls who jump on Tesla for being even slightly less than 100% free of the very same kinds of problems which all auto makers have.

        1. Stimpy says:

          Other manufacturers tend to take a much more conservative approach precisely to avoid liabilities like this.

          Blazing that trail with beta products in production has a cost.

  3. AlanSqB says:

    Here come the nanny state warnings you’ll have to constantly click through to use the feature now.

    “This is not a toy. It is a large and heavy car that can kill someone. Do not use Summon without properly walking around the vehicle, shouting ‘all-clear’ twice, firing a pistol into the air and ringing a bell for three minutes.”

    1. AlanSqB says:

      Please don’t read this as negative against the report. It’s just frustration directed at all the upcoming issues that will slow acceptance of autonomous vehicle as they are reported to the media. They absolutely need fixed, I just don’t want to be stuck with my horse and buggy in five years.

      1. kdawg says:

        Recent small victory for autonomous vehicle acceptance.

        ” U.S. vehicle safety regulators have said the artificial intelligence system piloting a self-driving Google car could be considered the driver under federal law, a major step toward ultimately winning approval for autonomous vehicles on the roads.”

        http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSKCN0VJ00H

  4. Edward Arthur says:

    Good job CR! Good job Tesla for implementing the updates.

  5. One safety feature the autonomous sensors provide, is sudden acceleration protection should a driver press accelerator vs brake petal … panics and presses harder.
    (we’ve all seen Internet video of a vehicle accelerating into a building, that was parked in front of the building(

    CC should be abdicating this safety feature on all vehicles! Early Model S’s lack the sensors, but those equipped have the added safety feature. Not just Tesla, as other manufacture are adding object detection … eg: slow and stop if a car, or brick wall detected in intended pathway.

    1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      Brian_Henderson said:

      “CC should be abdicating this safety feature on all vehicles!”

      Hmmm, I suggest advocating it instead. 😉

      (Sorry, a little AutoCorrect humor there.)

      But seriously, how can the car read the driver’s mind to ask if he really meant to stomp on the brake instead of the accelerator? If the car is equipped with collision-avoidance radar and automatic braking, then of course we should expect the car to not run into large, solid objects like buildings. But otherwise, I doubt we’ll ever see a car that will be able to reliably discern when a driver steps on the accelerator but meant to hit the brake.

  6. David says:

    Damit Tesla! Focus on fixing the Model X and launching the Model 3. Enough with the silly gimmicks.

    1. Someone out there says:

      Agreed. While it gives some positive PR when the feature is launched, it will cause a much stronger backlash when somebody manages to break it, which they inevitably will.

      1. Anon says:

        No. The backlash is all about how the company takes care of the problem. Do they sweep it under the rug for a decade and let nearly 200 people die? Like GM did. Or do they acknowledge it publicly and quickly fix it?

        1. kdawg says:

          GM attack? Oh it’s an Anon post. ’nuff said.

        2. ModernMarvelFan says:

          I blame it on Consumer Report as it didn’t find the problem with the ignition on those GM cars…

          Anon, somehow you will always find a way to fit a GM bashing line in just about any of your daily posts.

          Do you have a daily GM hating quota that you have to meet?

    2. Paul says:

      Fixing the Model X? Funny, there is so much negative press about Tesla now, mostly in the financial press and not based on any actual data but, as it seems, in a desire to keep the selling of stock going, that even commenters here start copying bits.

      I didn’t hear or read about somebody who got delivered an X and needed something important fixed.

  7. Someone out there says:

    Most definitely a serious flaw. These things will pop up a lot in the future when we move towards more autonomy. There is no such thing as idiot-proof, the idiots will always find a way to break it.

    1. jh says:

      I wouldn’t consider it to be a serious flaw. After all this could (and does) happen with humans behind the wheel. I do however think it is good to add a fix as it likely can be done and would eliminate a tiny but present now known risk.

      1. Someone out there says:

        “After all this could (and does) happen with humans behind the wheel”

        I don’t see how this takes away the seriousness of it. People sometimes behaving badly or incorrectly does not give this technology a free pass.

        What happens here is that you lose control of the car and it doesn’t stop by itself when it hits an object, which could be a small child or something. That is serious. If a person is behind the wheel you still have control, with this you don’t.

  8. tftf says:

    Let’s test it in Beta, run a few kids over and then release a final version.

    Like software….NOT.

    What Tesla is doing with ADAS is simply irresponsible and dangerous.

    This is not some game or phone software, this can kill people.

    1. Anon says:

      Seems like the’re fully aware of that, and reacting responsibly to fix issues, while pushing development of new features and capabilities.

  9. Taser54 says:

    This again appears to be a continuation of Telsa using the public to beta-test.

    Just lazy and in this case dangerous. I know that many Tesla fans won’t like this post, but you can’t deny that Tesla rushes things out without proper testing. If this approach continues, someone is going to get injured (and I an NOT ignored Tesla’s excellent crash test rating, I think they did great there).

    1. Anon says:

      Life on Earth, is a Beta-test. Humans that could build rocketships and electric cars occured only after 90 percent of the planets habitable history passed.

      People forget the long term view, and expect instant platonic perfection when the universe is actually a much more complex and chaotic system, where things (including autonomous software) must evolve over time– if they exist at all.

    2. Yup says:

      It is literally impossible to “properly” test something, if your definition of “proper” testing is finding and fixing every single conceivable problem. By your definition, if a child chokes on a spoon, then spoons weren’t properly tested and shouldn’t have been released.

      1. theflew says:

        Come on. This should have been the first thing they tested – object in the way, not just the garage door (big object) is open/closed.

      2. taser54 says:

        Don’t mischaracterize my post. This was easily foreseeable. Children in the driveway is not some obscure event.

    3. John in AA says:

      If I had a dollar for every time someone posted an overly dramatic, false-concern “someone is going to be hurt or killed by !!!” followed by… nobody getting hurt or killed, I’d have enough to pay for a Tesla.

      1. John in AA says:

        That should say “hurt or killed by some_feature!!!”. I have to remember not to put things in angle brackets on this site, the text silently disappears.

    4. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      Taser54:

      “…you can’t deny that Tesla rushes things out without proper testing. If this approach continues, someone is going to get injured…”

      Reality check: Cars are large heavy objects, which in normal operation are designed to move, and move at relatively high speed. As a result, it’s inevitable that sometimes they will injure or kill people, whether it’s a human or a computer controlling the car.

      This isn’t a problem specific to Tesla. Many auto makers are putting more and more driver-assist and fully autonomous driving features into their cars. Singling out Tesla here is refusing to face the real issue.

      No matter how well “driver assist” or self-driving features are tested, eventually some people will be injured and, yes, killed by self-driving cars. That would happen even if Tesla ceased business tomorrow; other auto makers aren’t far behind.

      It may seem callous or uncaring to say it’s inevitable, and certainly it will be cold comfort for any surviving loved one of someone killed by an autonomous vehicle. But our society has decided to accept the danger of traffic and pedestrian injuries and fatalities, as a tradeoff for the utility, convenience, and comfort of people being able to drive or ride in a large, weather-tight, comfort-equipped vehicle capable of moving at speeds in excess of a mile a minute.

      Computer programs don’t think like people, and a self-driving car’s sensors don’t work the same as peoples’ eyes and ears. As a result, it’s inevitable that — sooner or later — people are going to be injured and, yes, killed by an autonomous car doing something that it probably wouldn’t have if a person was driving.

      As a society, we need to make an informed choice about this: Can we accept that sometimes self-driving cars will kill people when they wouldn’t have if a person was driving, in exchange for an overall lower accident and fatality rate?

      I say “Yes, we should”. I say that knowing full well that someday, there will be a grieving parent whose child was killed by an autonomous car.

      But it’s an issue that needs a lot of discussion, and people need to think through what will happen when, inevitably, an autonomous car is blamed for someone’s death. It shouldn’t come as a shock to any informed adult when that happens, because no matter how hard software designers and auto engineers try, there’s no way to make self-driving cars completely, 100% accident-free. We should demand that they have an overall lower accident and fatality rate before autonomous cars are allowed on public roads. I think that’s an achievable goal.

      But demanding that no autonomous car could ever injure or kill someone would be the ultimate case of “The perfect driving out the good.”

      1. Stimpy says:

        Your entire argument is a strawman because the Summon feature does not save anyone from an accident. It’s for pulling your car out of the garage and that’s it!

        I entirely agree with your post when talking about public roadways, not a feature implemently 100% for convenience that has zero bearing on public road use.

  10. Trollnonymous says:

    Has anyone tried this on other claimed autonomous summon feature?

  11. OB1 says:

    My ex brother-in-law once ran over car that was parked in front of him.

    1. Jesse Gurr says:

      Ran over a car? What did he have, a monster truck?

      1. Raymondjram says:

        He probably “ran over” on foot!

  12. Foo says:

    This is embarrassing.

    How did Tesla not ALREADY do such tests before releasing the feature? Seems like THE obvious case to test — e.g., 1) put small toddler/pet (dummies) in path of car, 2) test that the car doesn’t “summon” over them.

    In fact, why didn’t Elon Musk personally try these tests? (If he’s so concerned about safety.)

    1. Braben says:

      It’s marketing. They want to demonstrate “technology leadership”, that’s why they throw out all these half-baked autonomous features. This is a high risk approach. A single major accident could do heavy damage to the reputation of both Tesla and autonomous cars in general. There is a reason why other companies are more conservative, even though the same or better technology is available to them too.

  13. ModernMarvelFan says:

    Good response from Tesla!

    Good job CR for pointing it out.

    This is kind of “attitude” that we need from all automakers.

    1. tftf says:

      No, we need them to stop releasing such features as “Beta” into the wild from now on.

      Poorly tested “Beta” ADAS features can kill people.

      1. ModernMarvelFan says:

        How do you distinguish it from “Beta” or “final release”?

        Just because it is “final release” it doesn’t mean it won’t have bugs or problems that require fixes (that is the attitude of existing SW industry which I disagree with).

        So, the way to address it is by acting fast.

        I agree that Tesla could do a better job at SW quality control.

        But how can you say this “bug” is a beta problem vs. perception of the expectation problem?

        Maybe the SW designer had the expectation that Tesla owners would ONLY use it while they are in control and fully inspect the area near the car.

        IMO, this is less of a bug. It is rather a “design” parameter issue where certain assumption wasn’t sufficiently “reviewed by corporate lawyers”.

        1. tftf says:

          Of course it’s just a name, but the public and engineers associate that with “unfinished”.

          That may work with game or phone software, but not cars that can kill people.

          1. Get Real says:

            So says the persistent short-selling , seeking alpha anti-Tesla troll and FUDSTER.

            1. ModernMarvelFan says:

              I don’t think it is fair to call anyone who criticize Tesla as “trolls” or “FUD spreader”.

              I have been called both Tesla fan boy and Tesla hater before.

              I think it is better to argue the actual writing or point rather than just labeling them.

              Of course, I would fully understand if someone starts a name calling war or I would make few exceptions for few “regulars”… =)

              I just think for the sake of other readers, it is better to focus on the issue or problem rather than name calling.

              1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

                ModernMarvelFan said:

                “I don’t think it is fair to call anyone who criticize Tesla as ‘trolls’ or ‘FUD spreader’.”

                It’s certainly fair to characterize tftf (Tales From The Future) that way. He’s one of the most persistent, most repetitive anti-Tesla FUD posters on Seeking Alpha. And lately he’s been rapidly earning that reputation here, too. He’s admitted he is promoting a short position on TSLA (Tesla’s stock), so his motive isn’t in question.

          2. ModernMarvelFan says:

            Personally, I don’t see it as a “bug” or “beta” but rather it isn’t “fool proof”.

            Can it be better? Yes. And Tesla is addressing it. But I wouldn’t call it incomplete or beta since Tesla designed to allow the user with full control. But it wasn’t “fool proof”.

            Lots of other SW or car designs aren’t fool proof. But it doesn’t make them “Beta”.

            For example, the famous GM Volt recall about “idiots” leaving the Volt on accidentally despite various warning features. But GM still recalled the car to “fix” the potentially idling feature.

            I hate the change since now I can’t use the car as a potential back up power generator in a reasonable use case.

            Do we call that Volt issue a “beta SW? No. It wasn’t “fool proof” enough. I believe it is similar here.

        2. theflew says:

          This is beta. This should have been the first test – object in the direct path in front/behind. The garage door in the way is technically part of the same use case. The whole reason so many cars have sensors on them is to detect this situation.

          1. ModernMarvelFan says:

            As I said, I view it as a “false” assumption by engineers in design parameter.

            They probably expected that owners only use this feature when it is in full control or full view.

            Rather than a SW bug, this is actually an improper design parameter

            1. Nate says:

              If they intend it to ONLY be used when the user has full control or view, then this is the stupidest feature I’ve ever seen. Why would you drive home, park in front of your garage, get out, unlock phone/open app/initiate summons, and then watch your car open the garage door and pull in the garage instead of just drive it in yourself?

              1. ModernMarvelFan says:

                Garage is too tight to have person exit with doors open…

                1. Nate says:

                  Right, but that is needed by how many people? Seems like a very limited number of people it benefits to risk rushing a feature out for a non closed beta program. Open beta works fine for some things but not all.

                2. Raymondjram says:

                  Must have been a very “WIDE” person! I can get out and into my car doors with only a foot of space.

      2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        tftf said:

        “Poorly tested ‘Beta’ ADAS features can kill people.”

        Kinda hard to judge how many lives have already been saved by automatic braking systems installed in cars, and I don’t just mean Tesla cars. Tesla’s Autosteer (Beta) has likely also already saved lives.

        But of course, an anti-Tesla troll like you doesn’t want to talk about that, do you? Because that doesn’t fit your Tesla bashing short-seller agenda.

  14. PVH says:

    Such an obvious test…we are now supposed to believe that a whole software developer team at Tesla did not think about it but nevertheless Tesla is going to revolutionize the car industry right ? (OK with me, just checking to remain within the herd)

  15. MDEV says:

    This is why is call BETA

    1. Pat says:

      Putting a beta label on something doesn’t mean it is a true, well run, beta program.

  16. Nelson says:

    I’m surprised Consumer Reports didn’t test by putting a dummies foot in the tires path.
    Maybe that’s next.

    NPNS! SBF!
    Volt#671

    1. kdawg says:

      And they have plenty of dummies to choose from too.

  17. Nate says:

    I haven’t heard of a legitimately good use case for this summons feature. Why would I want to walk out the front door to get my car instead of just go to the car in the garage? Most people have attached garages and garage door openers so they don’t have to get in/out outside in the elements.

    Is there something more impressive it can do besides the worthless thing it does as shown here?
    https://www.teslamotors.com/blog/summon-your-tesla-your-phone

    I’d prefer they kept things simple, and instead worked on the delivering lower end models.

    1. ModernMarvelFan says:

      Personally I find it as usable as the Falcon Doors on the Model X.

      It is certainly “cool feature” but not necessary. But when people are spending $100K to impress their friends, this feature certainly would do that.

      1 use case I can think of is that somehow a parking spot is so tight (home garage) that you need that feature to park the car.

      Or some jerk parked too close to your car in the public lot that you can’t get in from either side… Rare, but has happened to me once in the last 30 years. =)

      1. Nate says:

        >>”But when people are spending $100K to impress their friends, this feature certainly would do that.”

        I know a couple people with the Model S, and have been given a nice demo by one of them. Great car. However, I’d have to laugh if someone tried to impress me with this feature. I would not be impressed by someone who spent around $100k on a car, but couldn’t afford a decent space to park it. Basically someone could prove they spent too much on their car in proportion to their home with this feature.

        Yes, the jerk in the parking lot scenario is a better use case, even though it is rare. With a nice car you want to park farther away, but sometimes things can fill up full while you are out and about. I’ll give it that.

        1. ModernMarvelFan says:

          “With a nice car you want to park farther away, but sometimes things can fill up full while you are out and about. I’ll give it that.”

          LOL. I swear that the one time it happened to me was that when I parked, there were 5 to 6 open spots on each side.

          But when I get back to my car, an old station wagon was on the driver side and an old beater pickup trucks was on the passenger side backed in.

          So, obviously they didn’t care about my car for sure. The pickup driver made sure he/she left enough space on his/her side to another car who parked a bit closer to the pickup truck.

          But it was only 1 time out of 30 years.

          Oh, as far as the garage point goes. Well there are many “million dollar homes” in the SF Bay Area that has tiny garages. Since nobody has basement in the Bay Area, garage often becomes a storage area and some of them are truly “tiny” by most of the country standard and they still cost over a million dollar to buy.

          Tesla is a fairly wide car also.

          As I said, it is kind of “cool” feature that offers small amount of usefulness but unnecessary in my opinion.

    2. ffbj says:

      Its just so they can make a stupid scene in a movie, where our hero is trapped. Suddenly his Tesla comes rolling up flashes its lights and honks the horn and the bad guy runs away.
      Our hero pulls his Tesla key fob out and laughs, and the car flashes its lights.

      1. ModernMarvelFan says:

        Didn’t the Jame Bond movie with the special BMW 7 series allowed James Bond to escape by allowing him to drive the car with his phone?

        It was “Tomorrow never dies” I think.

    3. floydboy says:

      The feature was designed to pull forward or backward a few feet to show you how worthless it is. Really?!!

      The feature is a precursor to full autonomous convenience. The scenario being, you drive(or the car drives you, as per your desire) to a destination. You exit the vehicle and send it on its way. The car parks and even charges itself. You summon the car when you’re ready, and it comes and picks you up.

      Of course this would require a substantial sensor array, which the Model S, in its current iteration(as the bicycle and duffel bag can attest) apparently lacks. Hence the need for constant supervision.

      I have not the slightest doubt though, that as these things improve, so will the usefulness of the feature.

  18. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

    I’m a lot more concerned about the fact that, in CR’s tests, the car would run into a bicycle and not stop. Seems to me that upgrading to a “dead man switch” is just treating the symptom. The real problem which needs dealt with is to upgrade either the sensor system or the anti-collision algorithms in the “Autopilot” software to prevent the car from colliding with objects.

    Collision avoidance is something that computer gaming software handles very well. So I’m guessing the problem is that the Model S’s sensor suite isn’t up to detecting everything it should, for one reason or another.

    1. floydboy says:

      Spot on Pushmi-Pullyu.

      The bicycle suggests a need for additional cameras, while the duffle bag suggests a need for more(and better directionally aimed) ultrasonic sensors.