Tesla is using sensors aimed at autonomous driving tomorrow to protect against intruders today. The company started rolling out Sentry Mode on Wednesday, a new software feature that uses the car’s external cameras to keep guard for potential threats to the vehicle. It’s aimed at reducing attempted thefts, estimated to take place every 40.8 seconds in the United States in 2017.
The company’s new feature uses the suite of eight cameras around recent vehicles to continuously monitor its surroundings. The mode stays in “Standby” state, switching to an “Alert” state if it detects small threats like someone leaning on the car. During the “Alert” phase the car will display a message on its in-car touchscreen informing others that its cameras are now recording. A severe threat, like someone breaking the window, activates the “Alarm” phase: the owner receives a smartphone alert, the car alarm is activated, the central display’s brightness is increased, and the entertainment system plays music at maximum volume.
The feature is coming to all Tesla Model 3 vehicles, as well as Model S and X cars built after August 2017. These vehicles use a computer setup described varyingly as Hardware 2.1 or 2.5. The original “Hardware 2” was introduced in October 2016 with support for semi-autonomous Autopilot driving, and CEO Elon Musk claims it covered the necessary cameras and sensors to eventually support point-to-point fully autonomous driving. The 2017 refresh reportedly features a secondary graphics chip for more power. The computer inside these vehicles is replaceable, and Tesla plans to switch out the Nvidia Drive PX 2 from Hardware 2-based vehicles for a more powerful chip designed in-house to support full autonomy, a solution described as “Hardware 3.”
While Tesla’s full autonomy solution has yet to launch, Sentry Mode provides a new means of using the car’s sensors ahead of its launch. Users will be able to use a formatted USB drive to capture the footage from a break-in, which will cover the time 10 minutes prior to when the threat was detected. Sentry Mode is not automatic, and users will need to activate the feature by visiting “Controls > Safety & Security > Sentry Mode” on the touchscreen.
The company has started rolling out the software feature to current vehicle owners, starting with Model 3 users in the United States before moving on to others.
It’s not the only new feature launching this week — Tesla also unveiled a Dog Mode for four-legged passengers.