Skip to main content

Tesla’s Autopilot can be easily tricked, engineers find

Engineers at Consumer Reports (CR) said this week they were able to “easily” trick Tesla’s Autopilot system into thinking someone was in the driver’s seat, meaning the car could be driven without anyone behind the wheel.

CR engineers performed the demonstration on a private road using a Tesla Model Y vehicle. The non-profit consumer organization said it decided to conduct the test after hearing about Saturday’s fatal crash in Spring, Texas, involving a Tesla Model S that apparently had no one behind the wheel.

Related Videos

Tesla’s Autopilot system, and also its recently released premium Full Self-Driving (FSD) mode, are driver-assist systems and do not offer fully autonomous driving. Tesla cautions drivers to always stay vigilant when their vehicle is in either of these modes.

CR engineers took the Model Y on several trips across the organization’s half-mile test track. They found that despite having no one behind the wheel, the vehicle failed to send out a warning or indicate in any way that the driver’s seat was empty. The team said it took a number of simple steps to trick Autopilot, which included placing a small weighted chain on the steering wheel to simulate the weight of a driver’s hand.

“In our evaluation, the system not only failed to make sure the driver was paying attention, but it also couldn’t tell if there was a driver there at all,” said Jake Fisher, CR’s senior director of auto testing, who conducted the experiment.

Fisher added that he believed Tesla is “falling behind other automakers like GM and Ford that, on models with advanced driver assist systems, use technology to make sure the driver is looking at the road.”

Those systems use cameras to ensure someone is in the driver’s seat and monitoring the road ahead, while Tesla’s system uses a series of sensors designed to ensure, for example, that the driver has at least one hand on the wheel. If it fails to sense any hands on the wheel, Tesla’s system emits a series of audible warnings, which, if ignored, will result in the vehicle coming to a gradual halt. But a number of videos appearing on social media in recent years have, like CR’s test, shown that it’s possible to trick the system, enabling a Tesla to be driven without anyone behind the wheel.

On its website, Tesla tells its drivers to stay alert at all times, saying: “Current Autopilot features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous,” and also: “While using Autopilot, it is your responsibility to stay alert, keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times, and maintain control of your car.”

Model S crash

Two men aged 59 and 69 died in last weekend’s Model S crash in Texas when the vehicle hit a tree and burst into flames. One of the occupants was found in the front passenger seat and the other in a rear seat. Investigators are still looking into the cause of the crash to determine if the Model S was in Autopilot mode when it left the road. There’s also the possibility that one of the occupants was thrown, or moved, from the driver’s seat around the point of impact.

Responding to the crash, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the vehicle data logs “recovered so far” showed that Autopilot was not enabled at the time of the accident, and that the car’s owner had not purchased FSD. Investigators are reportedly planning to serve search warrants on Tesla to obtain data from the crash.

California-based Tesla has been criticized in the past for the way it labels its driver-assist systems, which some have suggested could mislead drivers into thinking their Tesla is fully autonomous.

Editors' Recommendations

BMW i4 vs. Tesla Model 3: Which EV sedan is better?
2022 BMW i4 M50

The BMW i4 and Tesla Model 3 are two of the hottest electric cars on the market today. Both vehicles offer a range of features designed to make driving easy and efficient, as well as attractive styling. But each has its advantages and disadvantages, and there is much that sets them apart in terms of performance, technology, convenience, and cost.

Deciding between the two? That's why we've put together this guide. Here are the differences and similarities between the Tesla Model 3 and BMW i4, and why you might want one over the other.

Read more
How much does an electric car battery cost?
electrify america evgo and chargepoint interoperability agreement for electric car charging station

Electric cars are often hailed as being cheaper to operate and repair than gas-powered cars. It makes sense — on the operation side, you only need to pay for electricity (not gasoline), and on the repair side, there’s no motor or transmission to deal with.

But electric cars have other costly repairs, and while in total they do generally cost less than repairs for gasoline cars, it’s worth knowing about the potential costs ahead of time. Perhaps the most obvious, and one of the most costly, has to do with an electric car’s battery. After all, while all cars have batteries, those in electric cars are far bigger and more advanced — and thus can cost quite a bit to replace.
How much does an electric car battery cost?

Read more
Tesla Cybertruck prototype spotted with minor changes
A Tesla Cybertruck prototype.

What appears to be a new Tesla Cybertruck prototype has been spotted testing on public roads.

As relayed by Electrek, Twitter user Greg posted a photo Thursday showing a Cybertruck with a different front-end design from what we've seen previously. The front bumper has a more distinct rectangular opening, possibly for cooling. This prototype also has triangular side mirrors, as opposed to the squared-off ones seen previously.

Read more