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14 - Summoning the Lil’ Red Wagon

2016 Tesla Model S P90DL image from Tesla App.

Autopilot is Strange

In post 10 - The Journey Home, in the Asleep at the Wheel chapter, I discussed my first experiences with Autopilot on the open road. I won’t rehash all the details, but it can be a little unnerving to use Autopilot. A quick preface before I go any further. My car has older hardware, so my perceptions are skewed.

With that said, the turning and braking aren’t even as smooth as the worst teenage driver. It can be jerky and awkward. It’s like trying to run in a curved tunnel with a blindfold on. The car keeps bouncing off the invisible barrier the lane lines create as it adjusts for distance from the invisible barrier and manages speed. However, where it does excel quite well is stop-and-go traffic. I included a little clip of me sitting in traffic as the car handles a slow crawl on the freeway with great ease. Although the Tesla handles stop-and-go traffic quite adeptly, I’d never recommend diverting your attention for long. All it takes is one misstep, and you’re having a costly and uncomfortable conversation with your insurance company.

Video of Driving on freeway

Dodging Garages

The only thing more unnerving than sitting in the car while it shuttles you along at break-neck speeds is, watching that buxom beauty try to squeeze into a single car garage on Summon mode- with no one sitting in the car. I had tried Summon in a parking lot before, and basically, the car just moves straight forward and backward, like a giant RC car with a controller. Don’t get me wrong, it’s super awesome to do it in real life, but it didn’t quite live up to the standards BMW set when they let James Bond pilot a 7 series with his cell phone in a crowded parking structure in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies. 22 years later, I felt like my Tesla was capable of something a bit more challenging.

So, I decided to try Summon one day in the garage. It was a hair-pulling experience. I drove the car into the garage and made sure it was lined up perfectly straight. I didn’t want the car to work too hard to get out of the garage on Summon. Inside the garage, I stood off to the side, opened the Tesla app on my phone, and brought up the Summon menu. If you touch the door handle, it cancels summon, so I wanted to be close enough to touch the door handle if the car went off the rails.

I stood back and held the button down to back the car out of the garage. The lights flashed to indicate Summon was active, and it slowly started to back up. It made a heart-attack-inducing number of minor adjustments as it progressed out the garage door. You could tell it had a tough time navigating through the door opening. One time, it moved so much I leaped forward and touched the handle to stop the car. I’m sure it would have corrected, but it was just crazy how close it got to the door opening. I stopped, panicked for a minute, just imagining the conversation I’d have with the insurance company as I explained a massive vertical crease in one of the doors. After that, I had to really think about whether or not it was worth continuing this exercise in automotive gadgetry.

Red 2016 Tesla Model S P90DL in Tesla App, showing Summon mode.

Red 2016 Tesla Model S P90DL in Tesla App, showing Summon mode.

Thankfully my childish impulses took over, and I continued to goof around with the car in the garage. I made a couple more test runs, hurriedly stopping the car, then manually driving it back into the garage. Finally, I got comfortable enough with its seemingly random gyrations to know it wasn’t going to actually smash into the door jambs. I noticed the car would stop once the front bumper was about 2 feet away from the garage door. I tried several times to coax it to back up further, but it refused. This perplexed me quite a bit because it was supposed to back up almost 40 feet unattended. I stopped to do some research and found out why it was stopping. My driveway is not flat. It’s pretty steep. The car has difficulty detecting distance safely if there is a steep slope behind or in front of the vehicle. It was time to turn things up a notch with that mystery solved.

By the time I made the video, I was pretty comfortable watching it pull in and out of the garage unsupervised. To add extra spice to the video, I activated Summon in the garage…with the door closed. The Summon is sophisticated enough to activate HomeLink and open and close the garage door. It’s super cool to watch the car open the door, back out, stop, then close the door. Unfortunately, this feature is now antiquated, thanks to Smart Summon, the successor to Summon. Smart Summon allows a car to navigate a parking lot all on its lonesome. It was fun playing with the car and filming the video, but I’ve never used the feature since. To be frank, it’s just too nerve-wracking. I’m just terrified that it would mess up and smash into something. I’d then have to spend thousands of dollars getting the car repaired…all because I goofed around with a superfluous tech feature.


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