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Tesla Can Be Tricked to Drive in Autopilot with an Empty Driver's Seat, Says Consumer Reports

By Danny Vena - Apr 23, 2021 at 11:34AM

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The news comes after reports that no one was behind the wheel during a fiery Tesla crash in Texas.

Consumer Reports reported Thursday that its engineers "easily tricked" a Tesla (TSLA -2.54%) Model Y into driving on Autopilot, without an operator behind the wheel. The driver assistance feature enables to car to steer, accelerate, and brake automatically, while staying within its lane of traffic. On its website, Tesla insists that "current Autopilot features require active driver supervision." While the Autopilot feature is designed to ensure that an operator is in the driver's seat with their hands on the steering wheel and to disengage if the operator isn't detected, but according to Consumer Reports, the existing safeguards in place are insufficient.

This report comes following a fiery crash in Texas earlier this week that resulted in two fatalities. Authorities reported that no one was in the driver's seat at the time of the accident. CEO Elon Musk said in a post on Twitter, "Data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled." He went on to say that standard Autopilot requires lane lines in order to activate, something the street didn't have. Federal authorities continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Texas crash.

The Tesla Model Y, speeding down an empty highway with a cityscape in the distance.

Image source: Tesla.

Consumer Reports said it was able to create a scenario that fooled a Tesla Model Y into believing that someone was behind the wheel by using a small, weighted chain hanging from the steering wheel to "simulate the weight of a driver's hand," which fooled the vehicle systems into believing someone was in the driver's seat.

Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports senior director of auto testing, said, "It was a bit frightening when we realized how easy it was to defeat the safeguards, which we proved were clearly insufficient."

Tesla has long contended that the Autopilot feature doesn't provide fully self-driving capability. While the cars are equipped with the hardware necessary for future autonomous driving, this will depend on "achieving reliability far in excess of human drivers ... as well as regulatory approval." This hasn't stopped some drivers from pushing the limits of the system, sometimes with dire consequences. 

Danny Vena owns shares of Tesla. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Tesla and Twitter. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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