Tesla is starting to use the camera above the rearview mirror in the Model 3 and Model Y to make sure people are paying attention to the road while using Autopilot, the company’s advanced driver assistance system.
Until now, Tesla cars measure driver attention mainly through torque sensors in the steering wheel that look for resistance – a crude way of making sure drivers keep their hands on the wheel. If it doesn’t register enough feedback, the car issues a series of escalating visual and audible warnings.
The change comes after regulators and safety experts have been pleading with Tesla for years to add better driver control to its cars. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has even admitted that Autopilot crashes are the result of complacency. But earlier, he rejected calls from his own engineers to add more robust driver control to the company’s cars. Musk said at the time that the technology was “ineffective.” Companies like General Motors and Ford currently sell cars with camera-based eye-tracking systems designed to ensure drivers pay attention while using hands-free driving features.
A Twitter user who says they just took delivery of a new Model Y. posted an image Thursday with software release notes describes the new safety function:
The cab camera above your rear view mirror can now detect and warn driver inattention while Autopilot is engaged. Camera data does not leave the vehicle itself, which means that the system cannot store or transmit information unless data sharing is enabled.
In subsequent tweets, the Model Y owner said the steering wheel sensor warnings were still active.
Electrek also has given the release notes.
Model S and Model X vehicles made before 2021 will not have a cabin camera, although the updated versions announced in January (which still haven’t shipped) should have it.
Tesla doesn’t define the term “ driver inattention ” used in the release notes, or what happens when it decides someone isn’t paying enough attention. Earlier this year, hacker @greentheonly and an accomplice were able to tease what a work-in-progress version of the camera-based driver monitoring system. He was especially good at noticing when the driver looked at a phone, even though he had a hard time in low light.
The in-car camera was quite benign in the early Model 3 and Model Y, although Tesla began using it to ensure that drivers in the beta test of its ‘Full Self-Driving’ version of Autopilot paid attention to the away. Musk said in March that Tesla has removed some beta testers from the program because they “did not pay enough attention. ”
The addition of a camera-assisted driver monitoring feature also follows a new wave of control over Autopilot, which emerged after a few fatal accidents where it initially appeared that the driver assistance system might have been involved – although in one case, officials walked back claiming that the autopilot was active, and in the other, an early report from the National Transportation Safety Board made it unlikely that the system was in use. There are also a number of recently documented instances of social media users posting videos fooling the Autopilot into thinking someone is still behind the wheel.