Tesla activates cabin camera for monitoring drivers using Autopilot


The NTSB will investigate the deadly crash of a Tesla Model S car over the weekend. Elon Musk says autopilot was not turned on. Video Elephant

Tesla has reportedly activated the in-car camera on its electric vehicles to monitor driver attentiveness when using the automaker's partially self-driving car technology.

The move qualifies as something of a concession toward safety watchdogs, who have criticized the company for not doing enough to prevent drivers from misusing its Autopilot system.

Several other automakers have also deployed in-car cameras with eye-tracking capability to ensure that people keep their focus on the road while using hands-free or partially autonomous driving systems. They include General Motors and Mercedes-Benz.

Typically, when drivers take their eyes off the road for more than a few seconds, the systems sound an alert. In GM's Cadillac Super Cruise system, the vehicle will even come to a complete halt if the driver doesn't respond. It was not immediately clear how Tesla's system would respond.

Tesla's move was disclosed in an over-the-air update distributed to its vehicles, according to social media photos first reported by several tech publications, including TechCrunch and The Verge.

It comes after Tesla recently came under scrutiny following a deadly crash in Texas involving one of its vehicles, which called attention to the fact that drivers can trick Autopilot into thinking someone's behind the wheel even if they're not. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said that Autopilot was not activated when that accident occurred.

Tesla owners have posted photos to YouTube showing themselves abusing the technology by, for example, riding in the back seat while the vehicle is driving itself.

Tesla's Model X. (Photo: Tesla.)

Tesla did not respond to a request seeking comment about the camera decision.

In the wireless update calling the upgrades "Autopilot Improvements," Tesla told owners: "The cabin camera above your rearview mirror can now detect and alert driver inattentiveness while Autopilot is engaged. Camera data does not leave the car itself, which means the system cannot save or transmit information unless data sharing is enabled," according to social media posts. 

Previously, the camera would only send a few seconds of video before a collision – and even then, only if the user had enabled the camera function.

Watchdogs have called for the company to both enable the system to monitor drivers while they're using Autopilot while also protecting their privacy.

"If Tesla has the ability to determine if the driver isn't paying attention, it needs to warn the driver in the moment, like other automakers already do," Jake Fisher, senior director of Consumer Reports' auto test center, said in a CR report in March.

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