Yes, Your Autopilot-Equipped Tesla Will Film a Crash

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
yes your autopilot equipped tesla will film a crash

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.”

Tinkering with a crashed @TeslaMotors Model S. camera stored these frames from the accident event.

— 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]

Join the conversation
15 of 59 comments
  • TrailerTrash TrailerTrash on Sep 15, 2016

    This is the world we now live in. Everything will be connected to clouds and manufacturers. Not saying it is naturally a bad thing, but like most tech, it is moving faster than our civilization can get its arms around and regulate. Never gonna improve as we see the glacier like movement of our congress here in the USA. It seems they move quickly for PC and empathy laws...but real actual needed regulation is mostly following the money. I have begun to see even kitchen appliances now requiring connections to manufacturers. Just hope the are not sneaking in cams. I would make a terrible Snowden leak video.

    • See 12 previous
    • Old Man Pants Old Man Pants on Sep 17, 2016

      @Old Man Pants Well, it won't matter in a few years anyhow, will it?

  • Cirats Cirats on Sep 16, 2016

    Interesting video. I only watched it a few times, but I think it is safe to say that the Tesla was really pushing that yellow light and/or was going way too fast. The light looks yellow in the very first frame and certainly is by the 2nd or 3rd, it seems like the truck well ahead of the Tesla stopped for the red (either that, or it magically turned into a small sedan and rounded the corner - where was that car hiding?), and the light is clearly red during the crash. I imagine the Acura driver figured the Tesla would stop for the red or greatly misjudged its speed, not that the Acura driver isn't at least somewhat at fault here, too.

  • Fred The bigger issue is what happens to the other systems as demand dwindles? Will thet convert or will they just just shut down?
  • Roger hopkins Why do they all have to be 4 door??? Why not a "cab & a half" and a bit longer box. This is just another station wagon of the 21st century. Maybe they should put fake woodgrain on the side lol...
  • Greg Add me to the list: 2017 Sorento EX AWD w/2.0 Turbo GDI 68K miles. Changed oil religiously with only synthetic. Checked oil level before a rare long road trip and Ievel was at least 2 quarts down. That was less than 6 months after the last oil change. I'm now adding a quart of oil every 1000 miles and checking every 500 miles because I read reports that the oil usage gets worse. Too bad, really like the 2023 Tuscon. But I have not seen Hyundai/Kia doing anything new in terms of engine development. Therefore, I have to suspect that I will ony become a victim of a fatally flawed engine development program if I were to a purchase another Kia/Hyundai.
  • Craiger 1970s Battlestar Galactica Cylon face.
  • Master Baiter "...but the driver must be ready to step in and take control. The system is authorized for use during the day but at speeds lower than 40 mph..."Translation: It's basically useless, and likely more stressful than piloting the car ones's self.