Food, Travel and Tech

Tesla: New feature enables car to drive itself through a parking lot to pick you up

A parking lot of predominantly new Tesla Model 3 electric vehicles is seen in Richmond, California, U.S. June 22, 2018.
Stephen Lam | Reuters

This week, Tesla is rolling out a feature that could sound like a dream come true for anyone who forgets where they parked their car in the parking lot.

The feature, which Tesla calls Enhanced Summon, lets drivers remotely call their car to drive itself through a parking lot to pick them up, so long as it's within 150 feet, according to Tesla.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted Saturday that the feature, which has already been available in beta for some Tesla drivers, will be available within the week for any US Tesla owners who sprung for the Enhanced Autopilot, or "Full Self-Driving," package (which adds an additional $5,000 to the overall cost of each car).

With Enhanced Summon, users will actually be able to tap a button in the Tesla mobile app to summon the vehicle, according to Electrek. The Tesla will drive on its own through a parking lot, maneuvering around objects in its path, toward its owner.

The Tesla user will have the option of either selecting the "Find Me" option, which will bring the car directly to the owner using GPS, or they can drop a pin at a nearby location (again, in either case, the owner or the chosen location must be within 150 feet of where the Tesla is parked).

Tesla users have already begun uploading videos showing their Tesla navigating a parking lot unassisted, but some critics have pointed out that the Enhanced Summon feature moves the car so slowly that it might not yet be as useful in real life as it sounds.

Of course, Musk has made ambitious claims about his products before that haven't come to fruition. For instance, in 2016, Musk said a Tesla could drive itself (without a human driver) from Los Angeles to New York City by the end of 2017. Two years later, that still hasn't happened, though Musk claimed earlier this year that the trip could be completed by the end of 2019, if regulators approve.

As for the Enhanced Summon feature, it builds off of the existing Summon feature from Tesla's Autopilot software, which allows users to remotely park their vehicle by moving it up to a few dozen feet forward or backward, using Tesla's mobile app.

A Tesla spokesperson told CNBC Make It that the company is not sharing any further information on the Enhanced Summon feature rollout beyond Musk's comments on Twitter but did not immediately respond to further request for comment on the usefulness of the feature. 

While Enhanced Summon is currently only available in the US, Musk added in his tweet that Tesla is also working on versions of the Enhanced Summon feature for international markets, but Musk says that process has been slowed by the need to satisfy varying regulatory requirements around the world.

Even in the US, federal law currently does not allow for driverless cars on public roadways (though the laws are evolving, and some states have started allowing more driverless car tests on public roads). And Tesla noted in a statement to Electrek, the Enhanced Summon feature is "only intended for use in parking lots and driveways, not public roads."

And despite the ability of the Enhanced Summon feature to drive the car on its own on private roadways, Tesla's Autopilot software is not yet meant to be fully autonomous. The software can perform all driving functions in some circumstances but a human driver has to be ready at all times to take control of the vehicle.

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This story has been updated to include information on users trying the new feature. 

A parking lot of predominantly new Tesla Model 3 electric vehicles is seen in Richmond, California, U.S. June 22, 2018.
Stephen Lam | Reuters
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