Tesla Model 3's driver-facing camera 'does more than just monitor passengers'

Reports suggest the Model 3's rear-view mirror camera is configured to capture a driver's gaze before an accident.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

A hacker has revealed the key events that the Model 3's driver-facing camera is designed to detect – and it appears to do much more than Tesla CEO Elon Musk has so far admitted.

Musk in April confirmed that one use of the driving-facing camera, which is located in the center of the rear-view mirror of all Model 3s, would be used for monitoring passengers in its future network of robotaxis. The camera could be used to dissuade passengers from vandalizing vehicles or at least capture evidence of such acts. 

At that stage the camera had been inactive in all Model 3s, but in June, some three years after the model first hit the road, Tesla issued a software update that activated the camera. 

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As Electrek reported at the time, Tesla allowed some Model 3 drivers to enable the camera, which allowed Tesla to "automatically capture images and a short video clip just prior to a collision or safety event". 

The images and footage would not be linked to a specific driver but would be used to help Tesla engineers develop future safety features, according to the company. 

Now Electrek reports that a hacker known as 'green' has uncovered the key events that Tesla's software is designed to detect, and these focus on the driver's gaze, such as 'eyes up' and 'eyes down', 'phone use', and 'eyes closed'. 

The events suggest that Tesla is at least exploring a driver-monitoring system based on gaze tracking rather than simply planning to use the camera to monitor passengers in future robotaxis. 

ZDNet has contacted Tesla for its comments and will update this article if it responds.

Separately, Tesla has also enhanced its 'Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control' feature, which detects traffic lights and stop signs. A new update allows cars to automatically drive through a green light rather than requiring the driver to confirm the action so long as there's another vehicle in front of the Tesla.  

Musk has also teased a new 'vector-space bird's eye view' to assist drivers with parking and handle tight spaces, but it's part of the Full Self-Driving add-on, which costs an extra $8,000 on a new car. But it could be a nice addition for anyone who's already bought Full Self-Driving. 

Investors in Tesla's battery manufacturing partner Panasonic are also getting nervous about the electric vehicle maker's recently revealed plans to make its own batteries through an expansion of its battery-cell production operation in Fremont, California.  

The Financial Times reports that Panasonic's stock fell 4% in Tokyo on news of Tesla's plans to produce enough battery cells for 1.4 million electric vehicles. 

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Batteries remain the most expensive component of electric vehicles – about 30% of a vehicle's production cost – and moving battery-cell production in-house could help Tesla cut battery production costs by 56% per kilowatt-hour. 

Current Tesla's sold in the US include batteries from its Nevada Gigafactory and are manufactured in partnership with Panasonic. 

On September 22, Musk revealed Tesla's ambition to produce an electric car that would cost consumers $25,000. The cheaper model is projected to be available in about three years, bringing down the entry-level price from $35,000. In-house produced batteries could help Tesla achieve this goal.  

Musk also touted a new cylindrical battery cell design that provides a 16% range boost and can reduce the cell cost per kilowatt-hour. 

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