The camera is currently deactivated, and Tesla fans think it might be for attention monitoring during autonomous or semi-autonomous driving, but Tesla is not saying anything. Its discovery comes amid growing discussion in the auto industry as to how drivers and increasingly capable self-driving systems should divide the workload.
The camera is in the Model 3 which the automaker delivered last week. The camera is integrated up above the rear-view mirror in the pod which contains some of the front-facing cameras Tesla uses for its Autopilot system. The company confirmed it was a camera which covers the whole cabin and its occupants.
Elektrek speculates that it could be activated as part of Tesla’s upcoming Tesla Network, where owners of the electric cars will be able to dispatch them out as autonomous taxis when they’re not needed. Being able to review what happened in the case of an accident or when damage occurs, for instance, might be essential for putting owners’ minds at risk since, unlike with Uber or Lyft, they won’t be present in the vehicle themselves.
Another possibility is that the camera will be instrumental in managing attention during semi-autonomous and fully autonomous driving. Currently, most driver assistance systems rely on periodic contact or torque on the steering wheel in order to reassure the car that the driver is still aware of what’s going on around them.
Managing attention has long been a point of concern for automotive regulators, but cars that are smarter about taking on the more mundane stretches of road have accelerated those worries. Back in 2016, NHTSA research suggested the magic bullet on nudging drivers to stay involved still hadn’t been found, and warned that “operators may have somewhat calibrated their trust to the capabilities of the automation” only to come in for a surprise later on when the reality didn’t live up to their expectations.
Of course Tesla would not be spying on users to monitor the car's use for marketing purposes would it?