Engineer shows how easily Autopilot safeguards can be circumvented

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Last weekend two men died in an accident when a Tesla struck a tree at speed. Authorities reported at the time that nobody was in the driver’s seat of the Tesla.

Tesla chief executive officer Elon Musk commented on a response to a Wall Street Journal tweet stating that, “Data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled and this car did not purchase FSD [Full Self Driving]”.

We’d like to draw attention to the tweet Musk is responding to which claims that that the seat must be weighed down and that a driver’s hands must be on the wheel every ten seconds or Autopilot disengages.

Consumer Reports decided to put this to the test.

On a closed circuit with a Tesla Model Y, a Consumer Reports engineer engaged Autopilot while the vehicle was moving and they were behind the wheel. Using the speed dial the engineer reduced the speed to zero and climbed into the driver’s passenger seat without opening any doors as this would disengage Autopilot. Using a weight, the engineer was able to fool the system into thinking he was holding the wheel.

“The car drove up and down the half-mile lane of our track, repeatedly, never noting that no one was in the driver’s seat, never noting that there was no one touching the steering wheel, never noting there was no weight on the seat,” writes Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at Consumer Reports.

The publication notes that this is not meant to provide insight into the crash last week but rather highlights the need for driver monitoring systems to monitor that a driver is indeed there.

Consumer Reports points to systems such as those used by BMW, Ford, GM and Subaru which actively monitor that a driver is in front of the wheel. While some Tesla’s have camera which can be used to capture the moments before a crash, the Model S doesn’t.

At the very least Tesla should make better use of its weight sensors in seats.

The point here is that Autopilot and Full Self Driving has a ways to go before you can comfortably let the wheel go.

You can read more about Consumer Reports’ testing here which includes a video of its test.

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.