Conceptually, the idea of Tesla’s Smart Summon feature is cool: You’re in a parking lot, and you don’t feel like trudging all the way to your car (maybe there are vast muddy puddles, or you have a squirmy bag of live snakes or something to get to your car) so you use your phone to alert your car and just have it drive right to you. This is a limited form of Level 4 autonomy, really, and while the fact that it can manage it even a bit is impressive, that doesn’t mean it really works well. There have been issues with Summon since it was first released and in some ways it’s like playing with a 4,000 pound RC car in a public parking lot. This time, an issue with Smart Summon is getting a lot of attention, since a Model Y was caught on video, seemingly under Smart Summon control, crashing into an absurdly expensive private jet.
The video was first published on Reddit’s r/flying subreddit, where the jet with the distinctive-looking V-shaped tail was identified as a Cirrus Vision SF50, which sells for around $2 million and has been compared to a flying Tesla, ironically. The video also showed up on Twitter:
lol someone tried to summon their Tesla via autopilot at an aviation trade show and it crashed into a 3 million dollar jet pic.twitter.com/ae1Th49YsG
— waffle party planner (@Phylan) April 22, 2022
The incident seems to have happened at a Cirrus trade show, though that hasn’t been confirmed. (We really don’t have a lot of information on this video, though we’re looking).What is clear is that it did happen at an airport, and the Tesla Model Y, which appears to be un-crewed and un-passengered, slowly and deliberately drives right into the side of the plane, just behind the wings, and keeps pushing it, spinning the plane around by about 90° before stopping.
It’s not clear how much damage happened to either plane or car; the speeds were very low, so it’s possible damage is minimal.
More alarming is that the Tesla did not appear to have any idea it was about to hit a very noticeable private jet just sitting right there. Teslas do have cameras on the upper part of the windshield, in front of the rear view mirror assembly, so one would think the plane would have been visible as some sort of obstacle to the car’s self-driving system.
Granted, a small airplane isn’t a common thing for drivers to encounter, though it should at least read as a large, immobile object that’s best not driven into. Even if the classification system was stymied in this instance, that doesn’t really excuse not just stopping.
There are no impact sensors or ultrasonic sensor on the upper part of the body where the car contacted the plane, so that could be why the Model Y was so gleefully unaware it was shoving a plane around. Regardless, this incident doesn’t make the Smart Summon system seem particularly, you know, good. At the same time, I’m fairly sure the Smart Summon feature requires a user to hold a button on a mobile app; did someone just hold the button down as the car rammed into a jet? It all seems a bit odd.
Tesla, having no PR department, hasn’t bothered to comment on the story, though Elon Musk himself once referred to the Smart Summon feature as a “fun trick”:
Current Summon is sometimes useful, but mostly just a fun trick. Once we move summon (plus highway driving) to a single FSD stack, it will be sublime.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 17, 2021
I can’t say I disagree; watching that car slowly shove that private jet around was pretty fun!