Tesla’s Vehicle Endoscope

Tesla wants to get up close and personal with its passengers to personalize their ride.

Photo via the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

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Tesla wants to get to inspect every inch of your car… and the people inside it. 

The auto manufacturer is seeking to patent tech for a “personalization system” based on passenger location and “body portions.” Essentially, an image capture device that Tesla refers to as a “selfie camera” for facial recognition, and “control circuitry” captures biometric data like height, facial features and other body proportions. It also captures where occupants are sitting and where they move within a vehicle. 

Using this data and taking user preferences into account, Tesla adjusts in-vehicle systems like audio output or climate control in real-time. For example, if a passenger is sitting in the back seat right next to a heating vent, this system may adjust the vent’s temperature or location so that they don’t overheat. Tesla noted that this system’s facial recognition tech can capture and store data on who has been in a vehicle and when, giving repeat passengers “custom audio greetings” for what Tesla calls (unironically, we assume) a “humanized in-vehicle experience.”

Tesla said the purpose of this is to better the “overall in-vehicle comfort and entertainment experience for the vehicle occupants,” as well as direct vehicle resources in an “efficient manner.” 

“Vehicle occupant experience and personalization is an important aspect for creating a positive vehicle experience,” Tesla said in the filing. “Maximizing the comfort felt by the vehicle occupants allows fewer resources to be used, thereby decreasing energy usage and increasing vehicle range.”

Tesla hyper-personalizing its rides is a pretty predictable move given all the other outlandish features that Teslas come with (see Dog Mode, streaming while parked and at one point the ability to turn your horn into a fart noise – before that got recalled by the NHTSA.) But this feature represents more than just another cushy add-on. According to Bob Bilbruck, tech analyst and CEO of consulting firm Captjur, it actually shows Tesla’s commitment to making fully autonomous vehicles a reality. 

This patent application stresses Tesla’s goal to make in-vehicle entertainment as comfortable as possible. Given the company’s commitment to its self-driving feature, that entertainment likely won’t be off limits to the person in the driver’s seat.

“This is based on their ideology around how their vehicles, probably within the next two or three years, are going to be completely autonomous,” Bilbruck told me. “Passengers will be passengers, there won’t be a driver anymore.” 

And because this patent application is so wide-ranging, if it’s granted, Bilbruck wouldn’t be surprised if Tesla tries to license this tech to other companies working on autonomous vehicles, like NVIDIA, Baidu or Alphabet-owned Waymo. 

But Tesla has more than a few hurdles to overcome if it wants to make its autonomous dreams a reality. Tesla’s self-driving software has been linked to fatal accidents and crashes multiple times. And the company has faced recall after recall related to its self-driving feature, including one from January which affected 363,000 vehicles that had Full Self Driving installed. 

Regarding the recall, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration noted that the feature “led to an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety based on insufficient adherence to traffic safety laws.” 

Another potential hurdle? Tesla customers may not be so keen on allowing in-car surveillance for the sake of comfort after the recent report that the automaker’s employees passed around personal videos from owners’ vehicles, including graphic crashes, road rage incidents and embarrassing scenes. If Tesla really wants to look inward, it has some reflecting to do first. 

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