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During 2019, Tesla filed its patent for Autonomous and User-Controlled Vehicle Summon to a Target, and it was finally published this past week.
Tesla’s patent application sets out the learning methods behind the Smart Summon feature, which uses machine learning methods detailed in two other Tesla patents. The three patents detail the inventions as to how data is generated for a machine learning model to achieve the self-driving capabilities in its Smart Summon software, described as:
“Using data captured by sensors on a vehicle to capture the environment of the vehicle and vehicle operating parameters, a training data set is created. In some embodiments, a three-dimensional representation of a feature, such as a lane line, is created from the group of time-series elements that correspond to the ground truth… As one example, a series of images for a time period, such as 30 seconds, is used to determine the actual path of a vehicle lane line over the time period the vehicle travels…a single image of the group and the actual path taken can be used as training data to predict the path of the vehicle.”
Earlier this year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that before features like Reverse Summon can be implemented, work needs to be completed on the “Autopilot core foundation code and 3D labeling, then functionality will happen quickly.” Improved and accurate training data makes the software feature much safer.
When the feature was first released in September 2019, it went viral with irresponsible acts by Tesla owners testing out the Smart Summon. Several home videos were published online showing Tesla vehicles having accidents and near misses even after Tesla announced it was still in beta phase and drivers are still responsible for the electric vehicle’s operation, just like with the Autopilot feature:
“Smart Summon is designed to allow your car to drive to you (using your phone’s GPS as a target destination) or a location of your choosing, maneuvering around and stopping for objects as necessary. Like Summon, Smart Summon is only intended for use in private parking lots and driveways. You are still responsible for your car and must monitor it and it’s surroundings at all times within your line of sight because it may not detect all obstacles. Be especially careful around quick-moving people, bicycles, and cars.”
The uniqueness of the Smart Summon patent application is not just its contents but the fact that Elon Musk is listed as an inventor. There are 18 co-authors on the patent, including Musk. Although he is always directly involved in most aspects of Tesla’s EV designs, software features, and business operations, his name does not appear on most of the company’s developments. But in this case, he did comment on Twitter: “I generally try my best not to be on patents.”
We are getting clues on the future developments of the Smart Summon feature as outlined in the patent application, such as:
The Smart Summon is not intended to push your Tesla car to the limits and attempt for it to self-drive to the shops. The driver is always needed to be in full control and that's being a smart Tesla owner.