Well, that’s something Tesla didn’t highlight when unveiling the production version of the Model 3 last week and something that I missed when I test drove the car. I even adjusted the rear mirror when I got in – facepalm – and I didn’t see it.
But yes, the Model 3 is indeed equipped with a driver-facing camera and Jason Hughes aka WK057 even spotted it on one of Tesla’s official pictures of the Model 3 – blown up and highlighted above.
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Today, Tesla confirmed to Electrek that the Model 3 is equipped with the camera, but it is not currently active. It will only become active after future software updates, which Tesla didn’t want to elaborate on.
Other automakers, like GM with the Supercruise on the Cadillac CT6, have started implementing similar solutions.
Several autonomous driving experts believe that a driver-facing camera to monitor driver engagement is needed for level 3 autonomous driving – a level of autonomous driving where the driver is basically used as a backup to the autonomous system with a reasonable period of time to transfer the controls.
Tesla’s current Autopilot system enables level 2 autonomous driving, but the company believes that future software updates will enable level 3 to 5 on the existing hardware in its cars today.
The MIT even launched a study on driver interaction with Tesla Autopilot features last year by adding driver-facing cameras to Model S vehicles.
They released some interesting preliminary results and Lex Fridman, the postdoctoral Associate at the MIT Agelab responsible for the study, said that he had been in contact with Tesla about his research and he believes the technology is required to enable more advanced autonomous features.
The ability to monitor the driver’s gaze and alert them if it looks like they are not paying attention when they should be could become an important feature.
Interestingly, the camera in the Model 3 doesn’t only cover the driver, but the whole cabin.
That could become a useful feature for Tesla Network, the automaker’s upcoming autonomous ride-sharing network. Owners will be able to autonomously send their cars on Tesla’s ride-sharing network in order to taxi people around autonomously and the owners and Tesla will share the revenue from this service.
It now looks like several Model 3 features are geared toward working seamlessly with the network, like the lack of a key and instead the use of the app to unlock the car, and now a camera in the cabin to monitor occupancy, which could facilitate the operation of the service while alleviating concerns that the owners might have with having strangers in their cars.
Of course, there’s also a downside. Some might be concerned about privacy. It’s something that the MIT research addressed. The collected data was kept on secure servers and people could never need to actually watch the footage. It could simply generate logs based on computer vision.
We will dig more into Tesla’s plans for the camera in the cabin and report back. In the meantime, let us know how you feel about it in the comment section below.