It’s common knowledge that Tesla vehicles store and transmit data back to the company’s Fremont, California home base, but a hacker working on a wrecked Model S just discovered something startling.
In an interview published by Inverse (h/t to Hybrid Cars), North Carolina computer programmer Jason Hughes claims that Tesla’s Autopilot system actually records video. While working on a center display unit from a wrecked Model S, Hughes found footage of the vehicle’s crash.
Hughes is a Tesla owner himself, and knew that Tesla collected data from its customers. He wanted to know exactly how much data a Tesla stores or transmits in the event of a crash. After purchasing the unit at auction, he wormed his way into the stored data.
“It’s not too terribly difficult,” Hughes told Inverse. “You have to basically gain root access to the MCU (Media Control Unit), and such. Tesla’s likely going to make that more difficult. I won’t say it’s simple, but it’s not impossible.”
— Jason Hughes (@wk057) September 13, 2016
Once inside, Hughes found low-quality black and white footage of the crash that sent the Tesla to the wrecker’s yard. The video, which he posted on Twitter, shows the vehicle driving towards an intersection and an amber light. A white Acura sedan appears on stage left, completing a turn. Then, we see nothing but crumpled hood.
Autopilot works via a forward facing camera, but until now it was believed to work on a moment-by-moment basis. That fact that it records and saves video, sending footage to the MCU for storage in the event of an airbag deployment (Hughes believes), is a capability Tesla hasn’t announced. Essentially, Autopilot can function as a dash cam.
Tesla once told TTAC that its data recording technology doesn’t meet the legal requirements of being called an Event Data Recorder (EDR). EDRs record a vehicle’s dynamic data (speed, etc.) just prior to, or during, a crash.
When asked how the automaker could say it doesn’t install an EDR despite claiming to collect pertinent vehicle data, Tesla responded, “We collect diagnostic data from Tesla vehicles in a responsible way that allows us to continue to improve the driver experience while also protecting our customers’ privacy.”
Hughes believes the Autopilot’s camera might not have recorded the fatal May crash of Joshua Brown’s Tesla Model S. It seems that images recorded by the vehicle’s camera are only sent to the MCU when the airbags deploy, and there’s up to 20 seconds of lag before the data transfer is complete.
In Brown’s crash, the timing and specifics of the incident are unusual. The Tesla’s roof was sheared off and the car traveled several hundred feet before impacting a pole — making it possible that the video didn’t make it the MCU.
The recently announced Version 8 of the company’s Autopilot adds radar to the vehicle’s imaging technology, removing some of the camera’s responsibility. It isn’t known if vehicles equipped with the Version 8 update will record video.
[Image: Tesla Motors]