Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (Beta) suite seems to offer the best driver-assist capability in the industry. But it’s not Level 4 or Level 5 full autonomous driving that allows you to pull out a pillow or tablet and chill out while the car gets you from your house to Starbucks. You still have to closely monitor the roads and be prepared to take over at any time. Despite what is sometimes claimed by critics and uninformed commentators, Tesla drivers know this. I don’t think it’s possible for any Tesla owner to think otherwise without some gross negligence or ignorance — there are firm, clear warnings in the car before and while you use the system. That said, someone people are going to act irresponsibly, just as some people do with cruise control and just as normal “humanpilots” do when driving without any notable driver assistance.
Many have wondered, “what will happen when some d****ss decides to pretend he’s in a robotaxi?” (We all know it would be a dude.) Well, we now have one answer to that question. Tesla takes away their privileges. Here are two fresh tweets from Tesla’s CEO, Chief FSD Engineer, Chief Marketing Officer, Director of Social Media, and Head of Tesla Support, Elon Musk:
Typically, people say that Tesla vehicles have 8 cameras — because they have 8 exterior cameras that are used for Autopilot/FSD. However, there’s also a 9th camera inside the car. It’s just above the rearview mirror and is apparently spying on us Tesla drivers, or at least those of us with FSD (Beta). Here are two pics from my Tesla showing the camera’s location (shoutout to EVANNEX for providing the Elon Musk & Starman sunshade free of charge):
This isn’t really unexpected. In fact, some people (like Lex Fridman) have long pushed for Tesla to use driver monitoring to enhance security measures when Autopilot is on. However, I don’t recall Elon saying (or tweeting) that Tesla had started doing so before today. Though, we did have some clues that I’ll come back to in a moment.
It has been known for years that the interior camera will be used when Tesla launches robotaxi service in order to keep an eye on what passengers do inside the cars, and for evidence if there’s ever a dispute about anything. Also, we’ve had a few updates over the years of other ways the Tesla interior camera could be used.
For example, in the incidence of a break-in or collision, the camera could capture the scene and potentially store that footage somewhere. A software update last year, translated from Chinese, read, “This update will allow the use of a built-in driver’s cab camera above the rearview mirror. When enabled, Tesla will automatically record images and short videos before a collision or security incident, helping the project develop security features and complete performance improvements. As usual, if you want to share a few preferences. Click “Control>Safety & Security>Data Sharing>Allow driving room camera analysis.” Going a step further and providing that footage to the vehicle owner seems simple and logical, particularly in the case of a criminal incident or car accident.
In October of last year, a white-hat hacker revealed what his Tesla’s interior/selfie camera was spying on, based on a new firmware update that added this to the code:
As I wrote at the time:
“Naturally, at a stage where the Tesla isn’t yet capable of 100% self-driving service unmonitored by a human, it could be useful to see if the driver’s eyes are closed or looking down away from the road. The system could then give a warning — perhaps a loud warning — that the driver should open their eyes or look up or else the car will pull over and park itself.
“In fact, there’s also a tag to indicate if the driver is using their phone, which could be very useful if Tesla wanted to be proactive about discouraging texting while driving, something that has been shown to be as dangerous as drunk driving.
“Showing just how nuanced it really gets, though, you have two tags regarding sunglasses — one indicating that someone has sunglasses on but is probably watching the road and one indicating that someone has sunglasses on but their eyes are likely not on the road.”
We’ll keep you posted if more information comes out about this. Naturally, driver monitoring and removing FSD Beta access for people who don’t behave appropriately should help Tesla’s case in the event of any regulator challenges or lawsuits, should those come about. And they just help to keep the road safer for everyone. We should also perhaps remember that if nothing was legal unless irresponsible people couldn’t harm others with it, then we pretty much wouldn’t have anything. From pickleball paddles to garbage cans, nothing would be deemed safe. The important thing is getting more people to act with some respect and “common sense” — but I know that’s a tough ask in 2021.