A hacker claims they have uncovered what a cabin-facing camera in the Tesla Model 3 is monitoring, with the findings suggesting the electric car maker is hoping to pinpoint the driver behaviours that may precede a car crash.
Twitter user @greentheonly routinely investigates Tesla's in-car technology, and their latest findings suggest Tesla is using the Model 3's mysterious internal camera to capture driver head and eye movements.
Previously, Tesla CEO Elon Musk claimed the camera wasn't actually active, and was instead a future-proofing mechanism for when the cars can utilise full self-driving capabilities.
"It’s not turned on. Meant for vandalism monitoring in a robotaxi future. Also, the car has transparent windows, so spying has limited value," Musk said in response to Twitter queries from concerned customers.
However, a software update issued in June this year gave owners the option of turning the camera on and sharing the data with Tesla in order to assist the company in "developing safer vehicles".
Next software update allows you to activate data sharing of your cabin vehicle camera to help Tesla engineers build new safety features : pic.twitter.com/hgF80etBsA— TESLA_saves_lives (@SavedTesla) June 18, 2020
"This update will allow you to enable the built-in cabin camera above the rearview mirror. If enabled, Tesla will automatically capture images and a short video clip just prior to a collision or safety event to help engineers develop safety features and enhancements in the future," Tesla said of the update.
It added the images and videos will not be associated with a particular VIN in order to protect driver privacy.
According to @greentheonly, these "images and short video clips" are designed to capture the whether a driver's eyes are closed, open or looking up or down, whether the cabin is dark or overly bright, whether the driver's head is facing down, left or right, whether a driver is using their phone or whether they're wearing sunglasses.
In case you were wondering what does the selfie camera in model 3 currently try to detect:BLINDEDDARKEYES_CLOSEDEYES_DOWNEYES_NOMINALEYES_UPHEAD_DOWNHEAD_TRUNCLOOKING_LEFTLOOKING_RIGHTPHONE_USESUNGLASSES_EYES_LIKELY_NOMINALSUNGLASSES_LIKELY_EYES_DOWN— green (@greentheonly) October 4, 2020
While Musk is yet to respond to the claims, it suggests Tesla may be hoping to monitor the driver behaviours and conditions that occur in the lead up to a traffic accident, as well as whether a driver is distracted while the car is in Autopilot mode.
Reactions to @greentheonly's Twitter post include concerned owners arguing the point of Tesla's Autopilot or self-driving capabilities is so they can look at their phones without concern, as well as owners accusing Tesla or trying to "put blame on the driver for autopilot-related accidents".
Others suggest the footage could be used in insurance claims, or could be used to issue an alert to the driver to encourage them to refocus in the event of an approaching hazard.
The camera, which is also present in the Model Y (a model that is yet to come to Australia), is located directly above the rear-vision mirror in the cars.
CarAdvice has contacted Tesla Australia for further clarification on the camera's purpose.