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Tesla to track driver awareness with camera following fatal crashes

Telsa employees work outside a Tesla showroom in Burbank, California. (AFP)

Some Tesla cars with ‘Autopilot’ features are using cameras to monitor driver attentiveness for the first time, according to release notes posted to Twitter.

The cars already use sensors to check drivers have their hands on the steering wheel. If the sensors don’t pick up enough resistance, the cars produce audio and visual alerts.

The Elon Musk-fronted firm’s Model 3 and Model Y cars will use their cabin-facing cameras to improve monitoring after a software update.

But the camera isn’t present in Tesla Model S and Model X cars made before 2021.

A video released by hacker greentheonly in April purportedly shows a version of the camera monitoring system at work.

According to the 12-minute video, software tracks variables such as phone use and which way a driver is looking.

Tesla’s Autopilot tech currently offers advanced driver assistance features that allow cars to steer, accelerate and brake automatically within a lane.

The firm says these features require ‘active driver supervision’ and ‘do not make the vehicle autonomous.’

But it says all new Tesla cars already have the hardware for full self-driving capabilities in the future.

The new release notes, first reported by tech outlet Electrek, read: ‘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.’

The camera, which has been dormant in the cars for years, was activated last year as part of a voluntary scheme to ‘develop safety features and enhancements.’

Musk previously seemed to confirm the cabin camera, located in the rear view mirror, would be used to prevent vandalism in a proposed future system of ‘robotaxis’.

The billionaire CEO has reportedly resisted calls to add more driver monitoring features in the past over concerns they might be ineffective, expensive and annoying.

But Tesla’s Autopilot tech have come under added scrutiny in recent weeks, following fatal crashes in Texas and California. It is not yet clear whether the system was engaged in either case, but officials continue to investigate.

Musk said Autopilot could not have been in use during the Texas crash, which took place on 17th April.

Road safety

Tesla’s Autopilot system has been criticised in the past (Photo: Getty)

American safety watchdog Consumer Reports has criticised Tesla’s Autopilot system in the past. In April, the nonprofit published a video showing a Tesla Model S could be tricked into driving without anyone in the driver’s seat.

CR auto testing senior director Jake Fisher told TechCrunch: ‘Consumer Reports has been calling for camera-based driver monitoring systems for automation systems like Tesla’s Autopilot for years.

‘Tesla’s current system of sensing torque on the wheel cannot tell if the driver is looking at the road. If the new system proves effective, it could help prevent distraction and be a major improvement for safety – potentially saving lives. We hope that other cars are updated soon, and are looking forward to evaluating them.’

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