I know for more hardcore Tesla admirers, this news is over a month old or so, but I just found out about it, and I’ll admit, it has me baffled. It’s a little detail, sure, but it’s one of those details that, the more you think about it, the more questions it raises. It has to do with the forward-facing camera module used on Tesla’s Hardware 4 revision for the Model S and Model X. The previous hardware revision used three 1.2 megapixel cameras for Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Beta and other optical needs, while the new version uses a pair of 5-megapixel cameras. Okay, that all sounds fine, right, the new cameras are of better quality and I assume provide as good or better an image to work with as the old three-camera setup did. Great. Except, for some reason, Tesla included a realistic-looking dummy camera in the housing. Why?
So you know I’m not making this up, there’s been plenty of articles about it already, and videos, too, like this one:
And, just so we all know what we’re talking about here, this is a picture of the camera module, both from the outside, and look at the unit itself:
By the way, you may notice that the cameras with real glass lenses instead of opaque plastic have a little red reflection on them; I’ve been told this is due to the sorts of anti-reflective coatings used, and some types reflect more blue, some reflect more red. Huh!
In both of these, you can see the camera on the right there isn’t real; in fact, the Tesla Model S service manual just calls it a “Dummy Camera,” as you can see here:
Oddly, the Model S Owner’s Manual still lists this unit as having three cameras:
Maybe this manual hasn’t been updated for the Hardware 4 revision just yet?
I can’t stop thinking about this because it’s such a peculiar decision; what’s the motive, exactly? I mean, I get that Tesla is by no means the first to include ridiculous dummy components on cars – Trojan built cars with fake radiators since the 1910s, and more recently there has been a whole bunch of BMWs with fake headlights. The difference in nearly every other example I can think of is that the fake whatever is actually some sort of crucial styling element: Trojans wanted to look like conventional cars, BMW wanted to keep their established quad-headlight look, that sort of thing.
Hell, even some modern mainstream cars still resort to the embarrassment of fake stitching on the dashboard to give the illusion that some poor bastard was hand-stitching your glovebox padding together:
These are all aesthetic choices, done because all of these bits of silly fakery are places where they will be seen, by the owners or people near the cars. It’s still kind of absurd, but I get it.
But in the little camera housing sandwiched between the rear-view mirror and the windshield? How visible is that, really?
Yes, if you’re looking, you can see the housing, and if the light is just right, sometimes you get a glint off one or more of the lenses of the cameras, maybe, but usually the reflection from the windshield obscures it all. You have to be really, really looking at the damn cameras to see them, usually to the point of getting right up to the windshield and cupping your hand right over the glass. This isn’t a styling element, at all; in fact, if anything, those components are deliberately hidden by the designers, as much as possible.
So, why go through the hassle of designing and molding a fake plastic camera lens to install in that housing? If the housing is re-purposed from the previous three-camera housing, why not just a simple, flat blanking plate? Sure, people don’t like seeing those on their dashboards, reminding themselves of their own crippling perfidy, but inside the camera housing up there? Who would know? Who would care?
A blanking plate just means that your new solution didn’t require a third camera. That’s fine, they’re better cameras. But a blanking plate that’s disguised to look like a camera, that says something completely different. That says, for whatever reason, you’re insecure that you no longer need a third camera. That says you’d rather people thought you had three cameras. Because…why?
There’s no way to spin a fake camera that doesn’t involve at least some attempt to fool people. Maybe the reasons aren’t especially subversive or evil, but it’s still a deception, and, when it comes to components on cars, that feels weird. I know it’s a minor thing, and I read plenty of comments in that YouTube video reminding the world that this is a tiny little insignificant detail, but that just makes the fact that Tesla decided to make a fake camera even weirder.
Is this going to be some future car-styling trend, like opera windows and half-vinyl tops, or like the opposite of a Continental-style fake spare tire hump, where instead of aping some idealized past, there’s pretend versions of high-tech components?
Can we all just admit that there’s something deeply fucked-up about this and it needs to be discussed? Because there is. I’d ask Tesla themselves about it, but they haven’t responded to press inquiries, especially from dirtbags like me, for years.
So now it’s up to us to just guess at their motives, I suppose.
My E90 has a high beam that only came on when the headlights were off. They were called flash to pass lights. My F15 does not have pass to flash instead that portion just has a plastic cover over it inside the headlights.
Third Eye Blind.
Do do do, do do do do
Obviously this faux camera is designed specifically for Oregon and New Jersey. When the full-service gas station attendant washes your windshield, you’re not going to be embarrassed by having nothing but a sad, faded-to-gray plastic plate in that camera hole. No, you will not. You will not invite the scorn and admonishment of gas station attendants in those two states. You will hold your head up high, as that attendant smiles admiringly at your full, glorious three-camera setup.
“And when Alexander saw the breadth of his three-camera housing, he wept, for there were no more holes left to fill with fake lenses.” Benefits of a classical education…
Beautifully done, but I would have gone with ‘beheld’ as opposed to ‘saw’. Still, bravo.
ICE car drivers think exhausts are cool, so they get extra fake exhausts.
Tesla drivers think cameras are cool…
There might be other reasons, but having one more reusable part for RHD versions could be one.
Y’all are not reading Jason’s post. The question is not “why are they using a three-camera housing if there’s only two cameras” — the reason for that could quite obviously be “because it’s cheaper to keep that part identical” or “because they still have fuckzillion of the old housings on hand they need to use up”. The question is “why are they going to the extra length of creating a fake but realistic-looking camera instead of a blanking plate or a camera-shaped blob of black plastic”.
And the answer could very well be that they are simply re-using parts from the actual camera, as a blanking plate. Why tool up a blanking plate if you can just re-use existing parts.
Wouldn’t be surprised if Musk demanded it because a flat block-off plate “looks ugly”
A friend of mine was an engineer on the early Model S and said when Elon saw a prototype of the S, he didn’t like how the rear parking brake made the center of the rotor large in diameter, even though it was necessary to fit parking brakes that would hold the weight of the car.
He demanded it be made smaller so the rear rotor and front rotor looked more even…engineers protested, he insisted. That’s why early Model Ss have a small dedicated parking brake caliper in the rear
Most likely explanation is that they’re reusing the tools for the real camera parts to manufacture the fake. But maybe they built custom dies for the blank and the person responsible decided to put some extra care on it (and we know it wasn’t Elon because it isn’t a fake dick or anything puerile like that)
A single housing that spans generations or trim levels + 3 identical (if not functional) camera housings are cheaper than two different housings (2-cam and 3-cam) or one housing + 2 identical camera housings + 1 blanking plate.
Fewer distinct parts to design, manufacture, QC, assemble, stock spares, etc.
I’m not an engineer but it seems sensible.
Jason’s suggestion wasn’t to create a new 2-cam housing for the whole thing. That would be the not-phoned-in solution so for Tesla that is out of the question. Jason’s suggestion was to use a less sophisticated dummy (a blanking plate) instead of something that looks like a camera and needs to be especially engineered to do so.
The housing for the real camera you’re already making without the guts is cheaper than designing and making a blanking plate.
Maybe it’s so that owners of the previous version don’t get embarrassed?
So that they don’t have to make a new part and can use the part they already have?
Somebody has a real thing about symmetry?
So that they have a place to put the radar module that should’ve been there all along?
Using radar would be a not-phoned-in-while-driving solution. Can’t do that at Tesla.
Maybe the dummy camera struck someone at Tesla as looking better than a blanking plate? Either way, it allows them to continue using the three-camera housing, even though they no longer need all three cameras? I don’t know what it would have cost for them to design/make tooling/manufacture a revised, specific, two-camera housing, but maybe there’s no ulterior motive beyond a bit of penny pinching on some Tesla account’s part?
With that said, perhaps we’re only supposed to believe that it’s now a dummy camera, and there actually is some sinister plan involved? We already know that Tesla employees watch and share camera video of Tesla owners without their consent, how much more would it take to think that Elon’s got some nefarious plot afoot, in which the ‘dummy camera’ might play a part? 😉
The third camera will activate when Skynet becomes self aware.
My alarm-less E46 has the red orb below the auto-dim mirror. If I recall, this is supposed to be a red blinky light for an optional alarm system, even though the Harman-Kardon stereo system in my car also has a red blinky light — for deterrence I presume.
In E46 cars without the auto-dim mirror, there is a knob here for dimming the mirror.
The obvious and most likely answer is that they designed the housing for three cameras, decided during development that were going with two instead, and included the dummy lens in the three-camera housing instead of throwing away the tooling that cost probably tens of thousands of dollars to create and spending tens of thousands more to create tooling for a two-camera housing.
Yes, came here to say that
Yes, but why include a camera dummy that looks like a real camera? Would it not have been cheaper to include a blob of black plastic that has the correct shape, but not go to the extra length of slapping a realistic-looking clear plastic lens on it?
Plastic injection molds are expensive. Could you justify the cost to your boss Elongated Muskrat $40K to produce a textured tool steel mold for your “blob of black plastic” when he just wants to use the acrylic (very cheap material) lenses that didn’t pass QC because they were dropped on the floor (yes this happens at auto suppliers they cant ship parts that have touched the floor) or the material doesn’t pass clarity standards?
Well, we all know about Tesla’s legendary attention to detail, of course!
Would that fake camera be a good mounting spot for a dash cam? Or a radar detector?
They are probably just using the same manufacturing equipment to make the dummy cameras as they used for the real cameras.
Perhaps that’s cheaper than new equipment for a new part, since they will probably be switching out equipment for a whole new two camera housing in the future anyway.
It’s prepped for a future 3rd camera over-the-air update.
its such a bizarre company
A more questionable hardware removal was last year’s ditching of the ultrasonics on Models 3 and Y — which could have had fake circles remain on the bumpers/fenders if they hoped to fool anyone — but they didn’t go that route. With hardware 4, the two higher-res cameras will more than make up for the loss of the lower-res front camera — but the loss of ultrasonics has been problematic so far. (Tesla saved money and reduced supply chain logistical issues, but the decision to use camera telemetry instead hasn’t been nearly as effective in detecting objects out of the front cameras’ line of sight. I think HW4 will eventually be using a front bumper camera to help resolve legacy blind spots — but the lower-tier cars don’t have HW4 yet.)
The USS delete has angered a lot of people. Their vision based park assist wasn’t ready but they eliminated the USS anyway. I have one of the Model 3s without USS and I recently got the vision based park assist update. Overall, it’s OK. Not as good as bumper sensors but good enough to back help anyone into a garage.
It’s probably mostly for deception, but I could see justifying it for symmetry’s sake. Ideally they run through their 3 camera housings and drop the charade soon.
Because Elon is smarter than all of us. Combined.
Username checks out
Your sarcasm detector must be off.
Mine is cause one of my sarcasm detector cameras is a freaking fake lens.
I think it looks better than a blanking plate. I imagine it’s just for the looks.
The purpose is totally evil. Specially selected Twitter Blue customers will receive cars with an actual third camera, the Tucker Cam.
This surveillance unit is designed to use facial recognition and data matching routines to identify “liberal, socialist, left-wing radicals hell bent on destroying “our” America” as designated by the Protocols of Carson and programmed by the Grand Wizard of Musk himself.
Targeting data will then be fed to the Tesla Autopilot directing the perfect angle of attack and speed for the most devastating collision. Autopilot will then effect the attack as well as hit-and-run escape vectors.
The reason for the fake camera is because lots of EV adopters are liberals and they would surely notice if their Tesla’s didn’t have everything their neighbor’s does, which could lead to exposure of the whole plot to eliminate liberals and make the world safe for gun owners again.
Ok someone has had too much coffee today 🙂
I imagine this could be functional with a subscription fee? (your friend) Elon. the monkey boy.
I have a sudden desire to listen to Third Eye Blind now. Hmmph.
Interestingly, that’s the first time anyone has every had a desire to listen to Third Eye Blind.
To my shame, I have chosen to listen to their one hit song. It’s on a CD I burned and named Generic College Music.
It’s package-protecting in case they need another camera/sensor to add to the system. Much like the button “blanks” found on many toyota products when you didn’t select certain options.
So why not just make it a simple plastic blanking plate?
Is it a weird Easter Egg thing?
“It’s a Tesla thing…you wouldn’t understand”
Deep eye-roll just hurt my brain
Fair point. It could be just an Elon aesthetics thing. Like the stupid falcon wing doors.
I think they didn’t want new buyers to think they were getting less. Like the Tesla fanatics wouldn’t find out!