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Consumer Reports on Thursday proved just how simple it is to fool a Tesla into driving without anybody behind the wheel.
Engineers from the consumer-research organization bypassed Tesla’s safety systems on a closed test track to show that — without too much fuss — the carmaker’s Autopilot driver-assistance technology can be engaged without anybody in the driver’s seat. They posted a video explaining how they did it.
The report comes after authorities said nobody was behind the wheel when a Tesla Model S careened off the road and into a tree in Texas on Saturday, killing its two occupants. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a Monday tweet that data logs recovered “so far” show that Autopilot wasn’t enabled at the time of the crash. Local police, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the National Traffic Safety Board are all investigating the cause of the incident.
Tesla has two methods of ensuring that a driver is paying attention when using Autopilot, an advanced driver-assistance system that keeps a car between lane markings and maintains a set distance to other cars. Both safeguards were easily defeated by Consumer Reports, though the outlet urges that nobody replicate its findings under any circumstances.
Autopilot can only be engaged when the driver’s seatbelt is fastened. Consumer Reports engineers bypassed that by fastening the seatbelt before getting in the car. Autopilot also needs to feel some resistance from a driver’s hand resting on the steering wheel. Consumer Reports achieved that by hanging a small amount of weight from the wheel.
The result was that Jake Fisher, the outlet’s senior director of auto testing, was able to engage Autopilot, bring the car to a stop, climb into the passenger’s seat, and bring the car back up to speed from there using a dial on the steering wheel. The Tesla Model Y followed lane markings on Consumer Reports’ test track and didn’t issue any warning that nobody was behind the wheel.
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“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,” Fisher said in the report. “It was a bit frightening when we realized how easy it was to defeat the safeguards, which we proved were clearly insufficient.”
Tesla did not return Insider’s request for comment.
Consumer Reports’ controlled demonstration confirms what has already been displayed in numerous viral videos, like one from November in which a Tesla owner climbs into the back seat and closes his eyes while his car cruises down the highway. In a clip posted in September, a Tesla owner shows it’s possible to climb out of a car’s window with Autopilot engaged.
The outlet said that Tesla is “falling behind” other automakers when it comes to monitoring driver attention while advanced driver-assistance systems are operating. General Motors’ Super Cruise uses internal cameras to make sure a driver is looking at the road, and Ford’s upcoming BlueCruise will do the same.
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