Tesla begins using cockpit cameras to monitor the driver

Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks during the unveiling of the new Tesla Model Y in Hawthorne, California on March 14, 2019.

Frederic J. Brown | AFP | fake images

Tesla began using cockpit cameras on some Model 3 and Model Y vehicles to make sure drivers pay attention to the road when using driver assistance features, according to release notes obtained by CNBC.

Its Model 3 and Model Y cars already had driver-facing cockpit cameras, but the company’s owner’s manuals said they were not used to monitor drivers. Instead, Tesla’s systems required drivers to “register” by touching the steering wheel, which is equipped with sensors.

Now, Tesla is telling drivers that its cab cameras have been turned on to monitor drivers in new vehicles that lack radar sensors, according to Kevin Smith, a second-time Tesla buyer in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Smith says he received a 2021 Tesla Model Y crossover on Thursday.

The technical changes come amid regulatory scrutiny of Tesla vehicle safety in the US and abroad. The company faces dozens of federal investigations into the underlying causes of Tesla-related accidents in the US, some of which may have involved Autopilot.

Elon Musk’s auto business sells its driver assistance systems under the Autopilot and Full-Self Driving (FSD) brands, an optional $ 10,000 upgrade. Tesla also offers some drivers who paid for FSD the option to test unfinished driver assistance features in its FSD Beta program, effectively turning them into beta testers.

Tesla owner’s manuals advise drivers that the use of these systems requires “active supervision.” However, owners have repeatedly demonstrated overconfidence in the systems, sharing videos and driving stories while asleep at the wheel, driving without their hands on the wheel, or even driving while sitting in the passenger or in the back seat of the car. car.

A federal vehicle safety watchdog, the National Transportation Safety Board, has asked Tesla to stop beta testing on public roads using clients instead of professionals, and to add robust driver monitoring to its vehicles. .

It’s unclear whether Tesla’s new camera-based driver monitoring system and cars without radar meet the standards set by the NTSB or other safety standards.

An owner’s experience

Kevin Smith ordered his 2021 Model Y in late March and was hoping to get a vehicle with the suite of sensors Tesla previously marketed, including radar.

But on Tuesday this week, Tesla announced that it would exclude radar and downgrade the vehicles’ functionality in a blog post. The publication also said that Tesla will restore missing features once Tesla transitions customers to a camera-based or “pure vision” version of its safety and driver assistance features.

Before he could receive his new Model Y, Smith was asked in an “Order Update” on Tesla’s website to confirm that he would accept the modified car for the same price as the one he originally ordered.

The exemption noted that the company is transitioning to Tesla Vision, its camera-based autopilot system, and that some new cars delivered as of May 2021 will not have radar. He also warned that Vision may ship with some features “temporarily limited or inactive,” and said Tesla will restore those features with wireless software updates in the “coming weeks.”

When it received its all-wheel drive, the 2021 Model Y Smith also saw a “release note” on the vehicle’s touchscreen informing it of a cockpit camera update:

“The cockpit camera over the rear view mirror can now detect and alert to driver inattention while the autopilot is engaged. The data from the camera does not leave the car, which means that the system cannot save or transmit information unless data sharing is enabled. Touch Controls> Safety & Security> Share data on your car’s touch screen.

The addition of a camera-based driver monitoring system does not restore driver assistance and safety features. Tesla said it had been disabled for now.

Consumer Reports and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety on Wednesday removed high-level safety endorsements for the Model 3 in the US after the company announced it had removed radar from these vehicles. Consumer Reports noted: “The government’s main vehicle safety rating agency says vehicles may lack some key advanced safety features, including Forward Collision Warning (FCW) and Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB).”

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