Tesla's famous Autopilot Full Self Driving (FSD) continues to generate controversy in the US and in fact, around the world. Adding to the investigations of the NHTSA related to the supposed accidents caused by the system, it was necessary to also add the prohibition of this same institution of devices specifically designed to deceive the detection mechanism of the driver in the steering wheel.
Just as a reminder for those outside the USA, NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), is a US government organization that oversees the safety of drivers. In June 2018, the administration had to ban devices designed to fool the driver detection system that Tesla incorporates into the steering wheel of its vehicles.
To be more specific, the beta version of the autopilot or FSD system requires the driver to keep their hands on the wheel at all times, permanently. However, Tesla does not have a sensor that actually detects the presence of hands on the steering wheel, so instead it uses a pressure sensor that from time to time must be touched or pressed by the driver to keep the autopilot running. This in turn has led many system users to seek ways to deceive the pressure detector and thus not have to do it themselves repeatedly, time after time.
As we've already mentioned the NHTSA once had to ban some devices for sale that fit on the steering wheel and exert pressure on the sensor, in order to trick the FSD. Some of these mechanisms were even camouflaged in many different ways, i.e. as supports for mobile phones, although they were also very quickly forbidden. Other users were looking for more homemade methods, such as plastic bottles that exerted pressure on the steering wheel, and other things like that.
Now Teslascope, a company that specializes in the brand founded by Elon Musk, has reported that the latest update to the FSD system (v10.69.3.1) has the ability to detect certain systems specifically intended to cheat Autopilot. According to that information, when the new software detects that a deception mechanism is put in place, it forces the autopilot to automatically turn off, disconnect itself. From that moment on, the Autopilot cannot be used again until the next trip. This new functionality will be implemented progressively and will be adapted to whatever new deception methods that are detected.
With this move Tesla will try by all technological means that the beta version users of this complex system keep their full attention on driving, as well as to make sure that drivers can immediately take control of the steering wheel, if necessary. Not surprisingly, Autopilot FSD actually still needs a lot of development in order to become a fully reliable and safe driving system.
The latest version of Full Self-Driving Beta (V10.69.3.1) can detect some forms of autopilot defeat devices and will be slowly adapted over time as new methods are discovered by Tesla.If detected, it will result in a forced autopilot disengagement; resulting in strikes.— Teslascope (@teslascope) November 25, 2022
For that very purpose Tesla is also using the cabin-facing camera to monitor driver attention, sending different sorts of warnings to the driver whenever their eyes are not specifically focused on the road ahead.
All images courtesy of Tesla Inc.
Nico Caballero is the VP of Finance of Cogency Power, specializing in solar energy. He also holds a Diploma in Electric Cars from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, and enjoys doing research about Tesla and EV batteries. He can be reached at @NicoTorqueNews on Twitter. Nico covers Tesla and electric vehicle latest happenings at Torque News.