Is it possible to fool the Autopilot? The case of the fatal accident involving a Tesla Model S and two people who do not appear to be driving led Consumer Reports to investigate and discover that yes, it is possible to drive a Tesla even without anyone in the driver's seat.
Last Saturday two men aboard a Tesla Model S died in a car accident, after crashing into a tree in a residential neighborhood of Houston, USA. The authorities stated that neither was driving: one man was in the front passenger seat and the other in the back. There was therefore immediate speculation as to whether the car was guided by Autopilot upon impact.
Consumer Reports' Jake Fisher drove a Tesla and enabled Autopilot, then used the speed selector on the steering wheel until the car comes to a stop. The Autopilot remained active and thus managed to place a heavy chain on the steering wheel (to simulate hand pressure) and then crawled into the passenger seat. From there, he could reach out and increase the speed using the dial. Autopilot doesn't work unless the driver's seat belt is on, but it was easy to bypass that too fastening the seat belt without actually using it.
"In our evaluation, the system not only failed to make sure the driver was paying attention, it also couldn't tell if a driver was there"Wrote Fisher in his article, noting that other manufacturers offer more robust monitoring systems. Companies like GM and Ford use cameras facing the driver to detect their face and make sure they are looking at the road. Such a system would have made it much more Difficult to use Autopilot from the passenger seat.
Consumer Reports suggests Tesla to "use the weight sensor in the driver's seat of the vehicle to determine if there is a human sitting behind the wheel. These sensors are already being used for seat belt warnings and airbags, among other things, so it wouldn't be difficult to program a vehicle to turn off features like cruise control if it detects that the driver's seat is empty."
At the same time, this test highlights how activating Autopilot without being in the driver's seat requires deliberate bypassing of safety measures. In short, whoever does it knows exactly what he is doing. That said, Consumer Reports argues that US authorities need to impose more stringent technological measures to avoid such cases. In Europe, manufacturers will have to adopt driver monitoring systems in cars from 2023.