A mod created by security researcher Truman Kain is capable of transforming a Tesla Model S into a surveillance bot that can spot, track, and store license plates and faces.
Kain debuted the Surveillance Detection Scout at the Defcon 27 hacker conference, which took place over the weekend in Las Vegas. The project plugs an NVIDIA Jetson Xavier computer into the USB port of the Tesla Model S dashboard to turn the electric vehicle’s built-in cameras into a surveillance system for additional protection.
The tool, which is also compatible with the Model X and Model 3, uses open-source image recognition software that alerts the vehicle’s owner if it keeps seeing the same license plate. If the car is parked, it will also be monitoring the faces that the cameras see and send an alert if someone keeps appearing. According to Kain, the mod aims to warn Tesla owners if someone is surveying the electric vehicle to steal or sabotage it, or worse, break into the driver’s home.
The alerts are delayed by about a minute because of the video recording time, and Tesla owners who would like to upgrade their vehicle with the mod will need to create their own web server. The project uses off-the-shelf hardware and available code though, so anybody with working knowledge on the required components will be able to use the Surveillance Detection Scout.
“It turns your Tesla into an A.I.-powered surveillance station,” said Kain. “It’s meant to be another set of eyes, to help out and tell you it’s seen a license plate following you over multiple days or even multiple turns of a single trip.”
Kain, meanwhile, admitted that transforming the Tesla’s built-in cameras, which are the same ones used for the vehicles’ Autopilot and Sentry Mode, into surveillance devices presents an ethical issue. He purposely left out a feature that will allow a large group of Surveillance Detection Scout systems to combine license plate recognition data to create a crowdsourced version of the commercial automatic license plate reader systems, which have been banned for police use in some states.
The Surveillance Detection Scout also carries the risk of sending alerts against innocent people, such as neighbors who drive or walk within the same area. There are also some privacy implications, as the data that a single Tesla vehicle can collect may open up avenues for abuse.