Now you can directly read data logs from Tesla vehicles
Tesla vehicles record a truly incredible amount of data. So much so, in fact, that the cars’ own material has had a hard time following with the amount of information. Tesla cars have historically been stingy with their data, allowing access to limited amounts of emergency information, but a research team in the Netherlands discovered how to shoot almost anything straight from a car – and made public the tools to do so.
Curiosity around Tesla’s data started in the Netherlands in 2016, when a Model S crashed in the country in an accident involving a single vehicle. The company’s tools for recovering emergency data had not yet been released, so Dutch officials could only believe Tesla when he claimed the autopilot was not in use before the collision.
Even with the introduction of Tesla’s emergency data logging feature, log files still had to be returned to the company for interpretation. They’re encoded in a proprietary format that can’t be read exactly in Microsoft Word, and only Tesla had the tools to convert them into something meaningful to humans. Today, thanks to the work of the Netherlands Forensic Institute, these tools are available for free online.
Since Tesla cars run a Debian based operating system, browsing their file systems is somewhat trivial for anyone who has spent a weekend playing with virtual Linux machines (or watching Mr. Robot). In reality, however, accessing the car’s memory is considerably more difficult: all cases require at least partial disassembly of the dashboard, and some even require disassembly of the car’s multimedia control unit.
Once done, however, the mine of data is incredible. Depending on usage, Tesla cars can store months of recorded information from a myriad of sensors – steering angle, acceleration, use of autopilot, and more. Although not all data has been fully interpreted, the tools published by the Netherlands Forensic Institute cover the majority of the information recorded on Models 3, Y, S and X.
For investigators, this type of access to information is invaluable. Raw data, unfiltered by the business, can provide a clearer picture of how their vehicles are operating, especially in the event of a collision.
Of course, any disclosure of data from someone’s personal device carries the risk of revealing personally identifiable information. No GPS data appears to be available in the logs, presumably for this exact reason, but the Netherlands Forensic Institute states that it is theoretically possible to approximate the location history of a vehicle at the help other information.
Although the risks to privacy exist, they are relatively small compared to the benefits to be derived from making this data available. If someone takes your Tesla apart in your driveway, you have bigger privacy concerns. The benefits, however, are incredible. Open source of data, freedom of information, is inherently good. By making Tesla data accessible to owners, first responders and regulators, the Netherlands Forensic Institute has finally started to demystify how these cars work and, in the event of an accident, who actually operates them.