The camera, which sits above the rear-vision mirror in the Tesla Model 3 and Tesla Model Y, has been the subject of widespread internet speculation – with theories as to its purpose ranging from passenger surveillance to driver eye movement monitoring.
But Musk this week confirmed the inactive hardware was an anti-vandalism measure designed for when Tesla vehicles are able to function as fully autonomous ride-hailing vehicles one day in the future.
Above: A Twitter user's image of the in-built cabin-facing camera in the Tesla Model 3.
Musk was prompted to issue the clarification on social media after one Twitter user shared a video of themselves covering the camera with the caption: "Until Tesla or Elon Musk tells me what this camera is doing for me I'm shutting them out."
"It’s not turned on," Musk retorted, "Meant for vandalism monitoring in a robotaxi future. Also, the car has transparent windows, so spying has limited value."
Until @Tesla or @elonmusk tells me what this camera is doing for me I'm shutting them out. It SHOULD be used with Sentry Mode, but it's not at this time. When it has a purpose that serves me I'll slide it back open. Here's what I used of you want to join: https://t.co/MasBhAAH5n pic.twitter.com/eZIEYmBKGx— LivingTesla ⚡ SnapPlate Creators (@LivingTesla) April 4, 2019
All Tesla vehicles built after October 2016 are fitted with advanced hardware able to accommodate autopilot functionality, with the company planning to eventually roll out full self-driving capabilities via software update.
Once self-driving software is available, Tesla owners will be able to add their own vehicles to the 'Tesla Network', a Tesla-branded ride-hailing app similar to Uber which will theoretically enable owners to profit from their cars when they're not using them.
The cabin-facing camera will be enabled in this instance to monitor occupant behaviour in the absence of a driver, allowing for the identification of vandals so owners don't absorb the cost of any damage.
"When true self-driving is approved by regulators, it will mean that you will be able to summon your Tesla from pretty much anywhere. Once it picks you up, you will be able to sleep, read or do anything else enroute to your destination," Musk explained in his 'Master Plan: Part Deux'.
"You will also be able to add your car to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app and have it generate income for you while you're at work or on vacation, significantly offsetting and at times potentially exceeding the monthly loan or lease cost."
When asked on Twitter this week when the Tesla Network functionality would be available, Musk said it was still on track for this year but "regulatory approval is the big unknown".
Functionality still looking good for this year. Regulatory approval is the big unknown.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 12, 2020
In earlier efforts to ascertain the purpose of the camera, one Twitter user managed to activate the hardware, revealing the extent of its cabin coverage.
In a Twitter thread sparked by the camera's images, Musk reaffirmed the camera's function as an insurance measure for owners.
"This is most likely for Robotaxis, if they vandalize your car, it's on camera and they'll pay for the damage and possibly get charge criminally," one Twitter user wrote, to which Musk responded, "Correct".
The mystery of the model3 in-cabin "selfie" cam is slowly clearing.huge thanks to @davidhooperr for performing a bunch of research and providing the car.The images are not perfect but at least we get the idea of the coverage now. pic.twitter.com/r447lQZX8u— green (@greentheonly) April 12, 2020
Currently, Tesla vehicles make use of an external camera that captures dash cam footage while the car is moving and functions as a security camera when the car is stationary and in 'Sentry Mode' – a setting that tells potential thieves the car's cameras are turned on while alerting the owner to the potential threat.