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Tesla CEO Elon Musk has clarified that a camera located above the Model 3’s rear-view mirror is there for when the car will eventually be able to work as an autonomous taxi. “It’s there for when we start competing with Uber/Lyft,” the CEO wrote on Twitter in response to someone raising privacy concerns about the camera. “In case someone messes up your car, you can check the video.” It could also augment the car’s Sentry Mode to keep an eye on pets and thieves.
Musk first spoke about his plan for Tesla cars to form an autonomous ride-sharing fleet back in 2016 when he released the car company’s “Master Plan, Part Deux.” The CEO said that he plans to allow Tesla owners to make extra money from their cars by renting them out as autonomous ride-sharing vehicles. The result, he hopes, is to “dramatically” lower the car’s cost of ownership “to the point where almost anyone could own a Tesla.”
In a follow-up Tweet, Musk confirmed that the hardware to allow for a car to be rented out like this is already present in cars the company is producing today and that it’s “just a matter of finishing the software & going through regulatory approval.” In May last year, Musk predicted that the functionality, which will be a mix of “Uber Lyft and AirBnB,” will be ready by the end of 2019.
The CEO added that once the functionality is eventually enabled, the cars will include an option to disable the internal camera. Until that happens, the camera will be permanently turned off.
As well as keeping an eye on passengers while you’re not present, Musk also said that the internal camera “could be used to supplement cameras on [the] outside of [the] vehicle, as it can see through 2nd side windows & rear window.” This is a feature that could foreseeably extend the function of Tesla’s Sentry mode, by recording thieves during a break-in. “Sentry Mode is barely at V1.0. Will improve a lot in coming months,” said Musk in a followup tweet.
Musk’s tweets came on the same day as a judge ordered the CEO to resolve his ongoing dispute with the SEC, and suggest that he does not intend to stop discussing Tesla’s future projects publicly on Twitter. The SEC has criticized Musk for making market-sensitive statements on Twitter without pre-approval from an in-house lawyer.
Given Musk’s propensity for making bold timeline predictions that are quietly abandoned later on — such as that time he said that a Tesla would be able to drive itself across the country in 2018 or the sale of a $35,000 Model 3 in 2016— it’s best not to bet on the functionality arriving this year. Especially when doing so will require the approval of regulators, who move much more slowly than Silicon Valley. Nevertheless, Musk has promised to provide more details about the functionality during a live webcast on April 22.