Following a recent incident in which a Tesla Model S rammed into the back of a trailer — resulting in a shattered windshield on the $70,000 electric car — the manufacturer and car owner are embroiled in a technological tussle to determine who is at fault.
Tesla said the car owner, identified as Jared Overton of Utah, initiated the car's "Summon" feature — which is in beta testing and not intended for use on public roads. Overton denied deploying the autonomous feature, telling a local TV station that he merely exited the vehicle and starting chatting with a passerby who was admiring his "flashy" car.
Not so fast, said Tesla. "The vehicle's behavior was the result of the driver's own actions," it insisted in a May 6 letter to Overton, listing in explicit detail the actions performed by the car:
"The vehicle logs confirm that the automatic Summon feature was initiated by a double-press of the gear selector stalk button, shifting from Drive to Park and requesting Summon activation. The driver was alerted of the Summon activation with an audible chime and a pop-up message on the center touchscreen display.
At this time, the driver had the opportunity to cancel the action by pressing CANCEL on the center touchscreen display; however, the CANCEL button was not clicked by the driver.
In the next second, the brake pedal was released and two seconds later, the driver exited the vehicle. Three seconds after that, the driver's door was closed, and another three seconds later, Summon activated pursuant to the driver's double-press activation request.
Approximately five minutes, sixteen seconds after Summon activated, the vehicle's driver's-side front door was opened again."
After the skirmish was widely disseminated on social media, commenters mainly took issue with the smartness of smart cars.
"Even if he did forget to cancel the 'self-parking' feature and left, why is this car not smart enough to know its own clearance and the clearance it is heading towards?" wrote one Facebook user. "Self-parking means 'self-parking.' Not assisted parking or part-auto parking, SELF-PARKING."
"Thanks for your sacrifice, testers of tech," wrote another.
"Safety is a top priority at Tesla," Tesla said in a statement to NBC News. "We remain committed to ensuring our cars are among the absolute safest vehicles on today's roads. It is paramount that our customers also exercise safe behavior when using our vehicles — including remaining alert and present when using the car's autonomous features."