The Tesla Model S can now actually drive itself with nobody on-board, with the US electric car receiving an over-the-air update to its Autopilot software.
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Software Version 7.1 for the Model S adds the new Summon mode, which sees the car adopt the ability to park itself with nobody in the driver's seat.

The system is designed first and foremost as a means of parking the car in tight spaces. If you have a single car garage, for example, you can line the car up to where you'd like it to be parked, get out of the car and stand nearby. Press the centre button on the key fob, and it will drive itself in to the spot. It'll reverse out, too, and can even open the garage door for itself using the Homelink networking system (with compatible garage doors).

The software - which is in Beta, meaning owners will have to activate it rather than it just being available automatically when the software is updated - will work within a distance of 10 metres of its intended destination (the user of the car must be within 3 metres of the vehicle), using the Model S's plethora of sensors to guide it in to its intended position. And if an obstacle is detected the car will stop - so it can be a narrow garage, but presumably not ridiculously tight.

There is a disclaimer in the release notes that says the car's sensors may not pick up narrow obstacles such as bicycles, nor things lower than the bumper or above the car.

It was the next logical step for the Tesla Model S, which as part of the 7.0 update was made able to automatically park the car in a parallel space with no human input aside from the press of a button (it steers, accelerates, brakes and selects gears - including Park - when performing a reverse-parallel park). It could also drive itself - click for the video.


Update 7.1 further allows the car to perform perpendicular automated parks while the driver is inside.

There have been some limitations set on the Autopilot software following what company founder Elon Musk described to media back in November 2015 as "some fairly crazy videos on YouTube". The changes that have been implemented are a direct reaction to the inappropriate use of the autonomous driving aspects of the previous update, which saw daredevil (or maybe just dumb) owners risking their lives - and potentially the lives of other road users - by doing things like getting in the back seat on the freeway.

The updated Autopilot will aim to curb that type of behaviour, with stricter controls including limiting the car's speed to five miles (8km/h) above the signposted limit.

The system is said to have seen improvements for keeping the car in its current lane if there are highway exits or faded lane markings, too.

Note: no official images of the updated software have been made available at the time of publishing, but you can watch the car doing it's thing here.

UPDATE: Australian market ruled out for Summon feature

With this update released overnight, Australian time, it was unclear if or when Summon would be offered locally.

But, as with the Remote Control Parking function of BMW's new 7 Series, it appeared unlikely that Tesla offering Summon in Australia would be legal. That has now been confirmed, although not all hope is lost.

Speaking with CarAdvice this morning, Tesla Australia communications manager Heath Walker confirmed: "the 7.1 release in Australia will not include summon feature, however that feature is awaiting regulatory approval".

Although not yet confirmed, Australian owners may have the ability to Summon their vehicle in the not-too-distant future.