Tesla cars can now self-park at your command

The electric vehicle maker is offering new autonomous-driving features while simultaneously placing restrictions on others already in use.

Tesla's software relies partly on drivers' common sense, for better or worse.

Tesla

If your parking skills leave something to be desired, you may welcome Tesla's latest software update with open arms.

The electric car maker, based in Palo Alto, California, issued an Autopilot update over the weekend that lets drivers use a new command called Summon to park their cars without even needing to be inside. It works in a range of situations from pulling into the garage at home to squeezing into tight perpendicular spots.

Summon also enables cars to wake themselves up and drive autonomously to greet their owners. The long-term plan is for Tesla's cars to drive anywhere to meet their owners, charging themselves along the way. Vehicles could even sync with their owners' calendars to know exactly when to pull up, although the company has yet to offer a time frame for introducing this convenience.

Self-driving cars are a hot topic in the auto industry, with long-established car makers and Silicon Valley companies like Google and Uber all working and sometimes even collaborating on autonomous driving projects. For the most part, the tech is still in the development or testing stage, especially when it comes to full-on self-driving vehicles. Tesla, though, is making strides in getting its autonomous driving capabilities onto public roads, albeit through individual software features.

What one hand giveth, however, the other taketh away.

As it issued the Summon update, Tesla said it is placing new limits on some already-available Autopilot features after it discovered videos online of Tesla owners driving hands-free in dangerous conditions. This backpedaling on functionality raises the question of whether Tesla is jumping the gun by equipping its cars with Autopilot before the tech, the law and car owners are truly ready for it.

When Tesla back in October introduced Autopilot, which uses sensors and cameras to steer the vehicle, it warned car owners that the feature was still in development and recommended they keep their hands on the wheel just in case. Multiple videos have since surfaced on YouTube of Tesla's cars being driven with no hands. In one instance, a driver recorded the video while sitting in the back seat; another video involves a near miss with an oncoming vehicle.

Detailing the latest update on Sunday before the start of the Detroit Auto Show, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said he is not aware of Autopilot causing any accidents, reported Reuters. Still, the software update will prevent cars in Autopilot mode from traveling more than 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) per hour above the speed limit on residential roads or on roads without a center divide. The company will determine the road conditions from data in its maps system, combined with information gleaned from on-board cameras.

Despite the new Autopilot restrictions, Tesla still appears to place a lot of trust in its customers, "asking" them to respect the beta phase of Summon. Initially the company wants car owners to become familiar with Summon on their private property and while they are near the car. It doesn't appear that Tesla can do anything to actually stop drivers from using Summon in other scenarios, though, and it seems inevitable that some Tesla owners will test the limits of their cars' new feature, just as they have with Autopilot's automatic steering.

Correction, January 12 at 3:21 p.m. PT: Corrects the location of Tesla's headquarters.

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