Tesla Model 3 to Driver: Look Me in the Eye

The car comes with a cabin camera that will only function later, when autonomous driving software is downloaded

interior of tesla model 3
Photo: Tesla
The camera's lens is buried in the support of the rear-view mirror.

Driver-facing cameras aren’t a new idea: Cadillac’s CTS Super Cruise uses an infrared camera to monitor your eyes for signs of inattention. So does Audi’s new A8, billed as the world’s first car capable of Level 3 autonomy.

So you’d expect Tesla to put one in its new Model 3, given that it’s supposed to have all the hardware it’ll need for both Level 3 and Level 4 autonomy. (Level 3 requires the driver to be prepared to take control, but Level 4 does not.)

The funny thing, though, is that the Model 3’s driver-oriented camera isn’t turned on. In fact, its very presence wasn’t mentioned by the company or noticed by the auto writers who first drove the car. So a tip of the hat goes to Fred Lambert, who confirmed the camera’s existence yesterday, in Electrotek.

According to Elon Musk, all that’s needed for full-bore self-driving power is an over-the-air software download. That, however, won’t come until regulators allow it. So don’t hold your breath. Same goes for actual, on-the-road autonomy for the Audi A8.

Another funny thing is the deliberate inclusion of what you might call sleeper hardware. You’re selling customers something that is of no use now, but will be—you say—later on. Sleeperware is something you don’t often seen in techland because of the fast product turnover, but even cars practically never have it. 

My first encounter with sleeperware dates back to 1993, when my office upgraded to Macintosh computers that each had a little indentation right above the screen. 

“What in the world is that,” I asked a colleague. “It’s a built-in microphone—they think computers will be used as communications devices,” he responded. Hah, I thought.

But it happened, and fast—within the working life of those 1993-era desktop machines. So maybe the Model 3 you’re driving will one day drive you.

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IEEE Spectrum’s blog about the sensors, software, and systems that are making cars smarter, more entertaining, and ultimately, autonomous.