NHTSA nixes Autopilot Buddy, a Tesla attention-detection cheating device

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants Autopilot Buddy off the market in the U.S. The cheating device disables a safety feature for Tesla’s Autopilot system by mimicking input that indicates a driver has their hands on the steering wheel.

The NHTSA issued a consumer advisory reporting its cease and desist letter to Folder, Falco, and Reese Partners LLC, the company that sells the $199 Autopilot Buddy. The order directed the company to respond by June 29, 2018, certifying that it has stopped all marketing, sales, and distribution in the U.S.

“A product intended to circumvent motor vehicle safety and driver attentiveness is unacceptable,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi King. “By preventing the safety system from warning the driver to return their hands to the wheel, this product disables an important safeguard, and could put customers and other road users at risk.”

A disclaimer on the device site contains the following: “Warning: The Autopilot Budy is not a safety device. Using this device irresponsibly may cause injury or death. This device is designed for closed track use, not for use on public streets.”

The site also states, “You as the driver are responsible to keep your car under control. Autopilot Buddy’s primary function is to disable the autopilot check-in restrictions.  Autopilot Buddy is developed for closed circuit or track use only.  Disabling key safety feature of any car is dangerous and ill-advised.”

The Autopilot Buddy website currently has buy buttons for international orders for Tesla Model S, Model X, and Model 3 cars. There is also a wait list button for U.S. orders and the following note, “Attention U.S.A. residents: Though we are not currently taking orders within the United States.  You can be added to our ‘Waitlist.’  Once we can resume domestic we will contact you.”

Tesla’s Autopilot is designed to assist drivers while traveling, but it is not a fully autonomous driving system. “Every driver is responsible for remaining alert and active when using Autopilot and must be prepared to take action at any time,” according to Tesla.

Tesla recently updated the Autopilot software to increase the sensitivity in the system that detects when drivers’ hands are not on the wheel. The current system looks for the minor movements or nudges that would indicate human hands on the steering wheel while driving with Autopilot engaged. In the absence of such movements, Autopilot issues audio and visual warnings and, if there is no change, gradually stops the vehicle and turns on the hazard lights.


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