Before anyone jumps to any conclusion, this is not a “Tesla Autopilot accident”. It’s a Tesla Model S hitting an Acura at an intersection. The Autopilot was not engaged and the Automatic Emergency Braking is believed to have kicked in though we can’t confirm it – more on that later.
What is interesting about this accident is that it confirms that Tesla’s Autopilot camera can be used to a certain degree as a dashcam to capture the circumstances of an accident.
It’s a question that I hear often: Can I use Tesla’s Autopilot and rearview cameras as dashcams?
The answer is “sort of”, but it’s nowhere near as practical or accurate as something like a Blackvue dashcam setup, which is very popular with Tesla owners.
Our favorite “Tesla hacker”, Jason Hughes, also known as wk057 in the Tesla community, is playing with yet another salvaged Tesla Model S, but this one is his first with Autopilot.
He told Electrek that he was cleaning up the MCU, Media Center Unit, of the vehicle and managed to find the Event Data Record (EDR) with 8 frames from the front-facing Autopilot camera before the crash. He shared a GIF of the frames on Twitter:
Hughes says that he doesn’t have access to the full plain text data logs, but he can still decipher a few things from Tesla’s proprietary logging format. He says that the TACC and Autosteer features of the Autopilot were not engaged at the time of the accident, which happened on May 1, 2016.
The vehicle speed at the time of the crash was ~57 mph and while he can’t confirm it from the logs, his educated guess is that there was an Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) event to reduce the velocity of the crash, but it was too late to avoid it completely.
The airbags deployed and Hughes believed that’s what triggered the system to store the last few frames from the Autopilot camera and with the MCU acting almost like a black-box.
While the frames give us a good idea of what happened – it looks like the Model S tried to accelerate to make the yellow light and the Acura thought it was stopping – with the Autopilot camera being in black and white, it’s not really ideal for a dashcam.
Update: to clarify, the camera itself can record in color and high definition, but the car can’t process that kind of data quickly so the images are converted to black and white with a lower resolution.
Additionally, you don’t currently have easy access to the footage. You would need to request it from Tesla after any event that would require you to review the footage.
It looks like traditional dashcams will still serve a purpose for now, but it is interesting to see how the current system can be used for recording the last few frames.