With the recent increase in Tesla vehicle break-ins and vandalism popping up across social media and online forums, CEO Elon Musk’s recent hint at an upcoming “Sentry Mode” feature for Model S, Model X, and Model 3 vehicles that are equipped with Enhance Autopilot hardware is both welcome and timely. The reveal comes via Twitter and in response to a customer’s complaint about a large dent found on his Model 3. “Tesla Sentry Mode coming soon for all cars with Enhanced Autopilot.” said Musk. The newest feature bodes well for the electric carmaker who’s been rolling out security improvements over the last few months, including an in-car dash cam system and motion-sensing Enhanced Anti-Theft system.
Tesla Sentry Mode coming soon for all cars with Enhanced Autopilot https://t.co/x2buQWiABX
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 22, 2019
Broken windows and trunk thefts from Teslas in the California Bay Area were reported over the last few months in San Francisco and neighboring cities, to the extent that owners felt they were being targeted. The pattern of behavior seemed to indicate thieves were exploiting a weak point in Model 3 vehicles in particular – there isn’t a sensor to detect if a window has been broken. After gaining entry through the back quarter window, the rear seat would be lowered to survey the trunk, and if contents were found, the full back passenger window would be broken and used to gain entry. Eventually, some owners posted ideas online to drive a group effort at mitigation, and two owners even designed a locking device to secure the rear seats and deter would-be offenders.
Enhanced Autopilot (EAP), Tesla’s driver-assist software enabled in February 2017 with the version 8.0 software update, utilizes 8 surround cameras and 12 ultrasonic sensors and radar. Also part of its capabilities is a “Side Collision Warning” feature that, when considered together with the survey hardware, can easily be imagined as the core of an advanced mode for vehicle security. Instead of the built-in software functioning to warn a driver inside the vehicle of objects within certain proximity on the road, an “always on” type system could transmit warning signals to the owner’s app and/or have a built in response.
Although details provided on the coming “Sentry Mode” barely exist, Tesla’s commitment to the security of its vehicles has been clear. In the Version 9.0 software released last year, a built-in dash cam feature was included which utilized vehicles’ 360-degree array of Autopilot cameras to record and save footage to a driver-provided external USB drive. Although the feature could have several uses, hobby or otherwise, it was specifically added to aid with owner security issues such as capturing hit-and-run events. Another possible vision of “Sentry Mode” may merely expand on this functionality to incorporate more advanced recording options, including an “always on” option.
Tesla-targeting security issues were also reported in Europe last year and, combined with the US-based reports, the need for enhanced security features has continued to be addressed by the electric vehicle maker through gradual improvements and options. In November, an Enhanced Anti-Theft device was released via the Tesla online store which monitors movement inside Model S and Model X cabins when the vehicles are locked. The feature had already been part of an optional security package in European models. In August, “PIN to drive” was released in an over-the-air software update requiring a PIN-entry prior to vehicle operation. The feature was a result of Tesla’s continuous participation in “bug bounty” programs offering cash and a free Tesla Model 3 for vulnerabilities discovered in the company’s suite of vehicles and energy products.