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The Netherlands Forensic Institute Claims it Has Decoded Tesla's Vehicle Data By Reverse Engineering

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【Summary】The Netherlands Forensic Institute has decrypted electric automaker Tesla’s driving data vehicle storage system by "reverse engineering" Tesla’s vehicle data logs. The data uncovered contains a wealth of previously unknown information that could be used to investigate serious accidents involving Tesla vehicles.

FutureCar Staff    Oct 21, 2021 1:35 PM PT
The Netherlands Forensic Institute Claims it Has Decoded Tesla's Vehicle Data By Reverse Engineering
The Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) said it had "reverse engineered" Tesla’s vehicle data logs to extract the information stored in the vehicles.

The Dutch government's forensic lab said on Thursday it had decrypted electric automaker Tesla's driving data vehicle storage system, Reuters reported on Thursday. The data uncovered contains a wealth of information that could be used to investigate serious accidents involving Tesla vehicles.

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk has been reluctant to share its vehicle data with regulators, especially after crashes involving Tesla's Autopilot automaker highway driving systems. Tesla's electric vehicles store detailed data from accidents and other events, which Tesla says is for its own internal data analysis. 

The Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) said it had "reverse engineered" Tesla's vehicle data logs to extract the information stored in the vehicles. The NFI said it was "in order to objectively investigate them."

Dutch lab said it had discovered far more data than investigators had previously been aware of, according to the Reuters report.

The decrypted data collected by the NFI showed Tesla stores detailed information about the operation of Autopilot. In addition, the vehicles also record speed, accelerator pedal position, steering wheel angle and brake pedal usage, and depending on how the vehicle is used, that data can be stored for over a year, according to the Reuters report.

"These data contain a wealth of information for forensic investigators and traffic accident analysts and can help with a criminal investigation after a fatal traffic accident or an accident with injury," Francis Hoogendijk, a digital investigator at the NFI, said in a statement to Reuters.

The NFI said it investigated a collision involving a Tesla driver using Autopilot after the vehicle in front of it stopped suddenly, resulting in a collision.

The investigation showed the Tesla driver reacted within the expected response time to a warning to resume control of the car, but the NFO said the collision occurred because the Tesla was following the other vehicle too closely in busy traffic while operating on Autopilot. 

This brings up the important question of who exactly is at fault, Tesla or the driver for tailgating, explained NFI investigator Aart Spek.

The NFI said Tesla encrypts its coded driving data to keep its technology secure from other manufacturers and protect driver privacy, which is understandable. However, Tesla owners can still request their vehicle data, including camera footage, in the event of an accident.

Tesla was under fire earlier this year from regulators in China about how its treats data collected from its vehicles, including the external cameras used for Tesla's "Sentry Mode", which allows Tesla owners to keep taps on their vehicles remotely if someone tries to break in.

In March, the military banned Tesla cars from entering its complexes in China, citing security concerns over cameras in its vehicles. Musk said the Sentry Mode cameras are disabled in the vehicles it sells in China.

To Tesla's credit, the NFI said that the company had complied with data requests from Dutch authorities, but said Tesla purposefully left out a lot more data that could be useful.

"Tesla however only supplies a specific subset of signals, only the ones requested, for a specific timeframe, whereas the log files contain all the recorded signals," the NFI's report said.

By decrypting Tesla's code, the NFI now knows more about what kind of data the carmaker is storing and for how long, allowing for more detailed data requests, Hoogendijk said.

The NFI said it had obtained data from Tesla models S, Y, X and the mass-market Model 3 and shared the results at a conference of the European Association for Accident Research so that other accident analysts can use it.

Tesla also has remote access to the data, the lab said, which is periodically uploaded from cars and used by the company for product improvements or to fix software errors.

Tesla has been under pressure recently to share more of its vehicle data with investigators in the U.S. In August, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) identified the 12th crash involving a police or fire vehicle while a Tesla driver was using Autopilot.

Shortly afterwards, the NHTSA opened a formal safety probe into Tesla's Autopilot system in 765,000 U.S. vehicles after a series of crashes. The NHTSA said its investigation "will assess the technologies and methods used to monitor, assist, and enforce the driver's engagement with the dynamic driving task during Autopilot operation."

As more vehicles like Tesla's are coming to market that are capable of storing driver and vehicle data and sending it back to the vehicle manufacturer, additional concerns over how much of this data that automakers are willing, or required, to share will certainly be raised, especially in the event of an accident while using automated driving features.


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