After countless documented samples of abuse and a number of tragic accidents, Tesla is finally implementing some real driver monitoring system (DMS) improvements for their Level 2 semi-automated Autopilot system, supplementing the inadequate method of detecting a hand on the steering wheel with a driver-facing camera that should confirm a driver is paying attention to the road. This is a good, important change! This article is not just to shit on Tesla!
While the adoption of a camera-based DMS has been expected for quite a while, mostly because the camera hardware already exists in Models 3 and Y, even though the use of those driver-facing cameras was said to be something very different:
It’s not turned on. Meant for vandalism monitoring in a robotaxi future. Also, the car has transparent windows, so spying has limited value.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 12, 2020
Vandalism monitoring for a “robotaxi future?” Uh-huh. Since Tesla is nowhere close to robotaxis anytime soon, and I’m pretty sceptical a current Model 3 or Y would even be capable of that, this never seemed like a really likely explanation.
Noted Tesla hacker Green the Only dug into Tesla’s code in April and found that the camera appears to be tracking driver monitoring information:
Interesting that "phone use" for Tesla means "driver is holding a phone in front of them" not "driver is talking on a phone that's pressed to their ear". pic.twitter.com/7Dumsx3Kmq
— green (@greentheonly) April 7, 2021
Now, it appears that this is official, with a software update release note from Tesla stating:
“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.”
There are also tweets from owners showing the notification on the car’s screen:
This is a big deal because it will potentially help to eliminate or at least significantly reduce the ability of drivers to fool Autopilot into thinking they’re paying attention — which, remember, you absolutely have to do because you could be required to take over driving with little or no warning.
There have been many ways to fool the torque sensor in the steering wheel, from cramming an orange in the wheel to dangling some rolls of tape from it, like Consumer Reports did. A torque sensor has never been an adequate means to monitor a driver; I think automation expert Dr. Missy Cummings of Duke University put it most succinctly when she said:
“The takeaway is torque monitoring on the driving wheel is terrible and should be outlawed that should not happen at all…we should never use that as a proxy for driver monitoring.”
Now it seems Tesla will at last be on par with camera-based DMS systems like GM’s SuperCruise, and we should see examples of Autopilot abuse go down, at least on Tesla Models 3 and Y.
Of course, not everyone is happy, because, come on, this is Earth. Despite Tesla’s statement that no camera data will leave the car, dedicated but ashamed nose-pickers and others who don’t wish to be stared at by a computer while driving have decried the perceived privacy invasion.
I mean, it is a camera pointed at you, and there is potential for abuse of that camera data. This is the case with any internet-connected camera that sees you. It’s possible that someone at Tesla could pull up a lot of video footage of people sitting in their cars, but this was a possibility since the cameras were installed, and, hopefully, the benefit of real driver monitoring will outweigh the hypothetical privacy risks.
I think the most eye-rolling reaction to the camera-based DMS may be this:
Really? so if a girl is giving me head while I'm driving they should see that? Dude there's a dozen other examples of private things u can do in your car that other drivers can't see. Like if I have just my underwear on. Why should they get to see that. Hard pass!!!
— LiveAndDieOnMars (@LiveAndDieOnMa1) May 28, 2021
I’m not exactly sure who the “they” is that might get the treat of watching this Tesla owner get fellated while he’s driving? The car? Some random employee at Tesla? Elon Musk, having a quick, mind-clearing wank to streams of his customers getting orally pleasured in their cars?
Also, I like that this dude not only implies he may routinely go for a drive in his underwear, but that someone might “get to” see it. Oh boy.
Really, though, any man who has used an automatic flushing urinal shouldn’t even care about this. You do realise that the way those flush is with a camera sending video to some dude in front of a colossal bank of monitors, watching everyone pee, then issuing the flush command when they’re done?
They tried to automate it, but got too many false positives. So now it is banks of monitors, with bored employees looking at a huge video grid of peeing dicks.
I may have made that urinal part up, but the overall point still stands: real driver monitoring has been needed for Autopilot, so this is a positive development.
So, maybe wear clothes and don’t get fellated while driving.