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Tesla Motors, Inc.'s Vision for Driverless Cars Is Materializing

By Daniel Sparks – Feb 8, 2016 at 6:30PM

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Shortly after it enabled driverless parking, Tesla wants the world to know it's as ambitious as ever about furthering the technology.

Electric car-maker Tesla Motors (TSLA -1.10%) apparently wants the world to know a bit more about how important its recently released summon feature is to the company. While it was already clear the feature marked an important step for Tesla in its vision to eventually enabling its cars to drive across the country without a driver, the automaker shared some more specific details on its plans to getting to autonomy in a blog post on Monday.

Where summon and autopilot converge
Tesla's vehicles haven't achieved autonomous driving yet, but driver-assisting features, combined Tesla's first driverless function for parking Tesla vehicles on private property, called Summon, have started to give Tesla drivers a taste of what the technology could like like in the future.

Chief among Tesla's autonomous-like features are Tesla's autopilot, which gives Model S the ability to automatically steer, accelerate, brake, and change lanes on the highway; and its Summon feature, which enables the vehicle to autonomously navigate tight spaces when parking and exiting a parking space on private property.

In the company's Wednesday blog post, Tesla specifically emphasized the importance of Summon.

"While many of these features move the ball forward toward a safer autonomous future, none is more significant than the remote parking technology known as Summon," Tesla said. 

The company listed three goals in which Summon advances the company toward:

1. Safety. "Between 2008 and 2011, NHTSA estimates that over 900 people were killed and another 52,000 injured by vehicles backing up in the United States alone," Tesla explained. "By enabling remote retrieval of Model S or Model X from a parking space, Summon provides the driver with a direct line of sight to the danger zones around it. At the same time, ultrasonic sensors placed around the vehicle proactively guard against any unseen or moving hazards and enable the car to stop upon detection."

2. Convenience. The blog post noted Summon "significantly improves the convenience of the parking experience."

With the vehicle able to park or back out of a parking space or garage with the occupants out of the vehicle, Summon makes it possible for Tesla owners to enter and exit a vehicle with extra space.

3. The foundation. "Summon lays important groundwork for an increasingly autonomous world. One where the convenience and safety of transport vastly exceed what we are used to today," Tesla said.

And it's in this point the company shared its clearest vision of moving toward autonomy yet:

Autopilot began this process on the highways. Summon begins it in your garage. As the technology advances, the complementary capabilities of each will converge.

The next steps toward autonomy
Tesla CEO Elon Musk said during the company's question-and-answer session with press following the release of its summon feature that the automaker is currently focused on building up a convincing case for the increased safety of its autonomous-like features such as its Autosteer and Summon. Armed with data that these features are making driving significantly safer, the company could arguably move toward autonomous driving more rapidly, as regulation would probably be more willing to support its advancement.

Musk specifically noted during the question-and-answer session last month that he believed Tesla could be able to make a compelling case for the increased safety associated with its autonomous-like driving sometime within 2016.

The confidence in Tesla's roadmap toward an autonomous driving articulated in Monday's blog post suggests the company's early data on safety associated with its Autopilot and Summon may already be building a compelling case. Further, the note may suggest Tesla has more Autopilot and Summon software updates for its fleet around the corner.

Daniel Sparks owns shares of Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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