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what is Sentry Mode and how does it work?

For years now, Tesla has offered a “Sentinel” mode to stand guard for you when the car is parked. But where does this mod come from? How does it work and what are its limitations?

Tesla’s sentry mode displayed inside a Model 3

Many electric cars are now equipped with cameras, especially for driving assistance functions. A Tesla fresh from the factory has eight of them, for example, and the manufacturer makes sure that some of them can record events on demand, when the vehicle is parked. This is the “Sentinel” mode you may have heard of before.

We will see together how this feature was born, what it allows you to do, its limitations and how it works in detail.

A solution to stop vandalism

The Tesla Model 3 arrived in the United States in the course of 2017: by the end of 2018 it was already very popular. This was obviously the case in Silicon Valley, California, where some vandals took advantage of a small weakness in the rear windows of the vehicle.

By breaking the window, access to the trunk was possible by lowering the seats, and regularly thieves found loot that particularly interested them: valuables, iPads or other laptops were frequently retrieved in seconds without even the alarm. of the car does not trigger.

To respond to this growing phenomenon, for once, Tesla deployed a remote update of its vehicle fleet in March 2019 to allow owners not only to have a video trace of what had happened, but also for deafening music to start when an intrusion was detected: the Sentinel mode was born.

A legal vagueness

Using sentry mode amounts to filming the public highway as soon as the vehicle is parked, given that it is not the interior of the vehicle that is monitored, but its exterior surroundings. If the CNIL warns that ” individuals can only film inside their property in their file dedicated to video surveillance on public roads, we can then imagine that the Sentinel mode is not authorized in France.

Tesla Autopilot
Tesla’s Autopilot cameras

However, Tesla has hardly invented anything here, in the sense that dashcams (vehicle cameras that film the exterior) have been around for years, sometimes even with a financial incentive from car insurers. to equip you. However, if the recorded videos are intended to be shared, it becomes necessary to delete all identifiable people as well as the license plates of other vehicles unless it is intended for justice or law enforcement, for example. .

How does Tesla Sentinel Mode work?

Currently, Tesla’s Sentinel Mode uses four cameras to monitor the vehicle’s surroundings: one camera in the front, one on each side, and one in the back. So it doesn’t matter whether you are parked with your back or facing a wall, because you will always have the other side covered by the other camera.

An exterior camera of a Tesla Model 3

When Sentinel mode is active, if the cameras detect a presence near the vehicle, a ten-minute recording is saved to a USB storage device in the car. Simultaneously, the headlights flash and the central screen lights up displaying a message indicating that the events are being filmed.

Tesla Sentinel Mode
Tesla’s sentry mode displayed inside a Model 3 // Source: Bob Jouy for Frandroid

Most of the time, fortunately, the Sentinel mode stops there. There’s not even a notification on the Tesla app that something has happened. But there may be cases where the trigger goes much further, especially if an intrusion is detected.

In this case, the loudspeakers start playing theToccata and Fugueof JS Bach at full power, to alert people nearby, and above all scare away those who were trying to do something wrong. At the same time, a notification will be sent to the application to alert when the alarm is triggered by the Sentinel mode.

Today, the owner of a Tesla can choose to automatically activate the Sentinel mode or not, and also indicate places of exclusion (home, work, or favorite places in the navigation). This is a fairly practical function, because it is likely to want to use the Sentinel mode in a public car park, but not at home in a closed garage for example.

Sentinel mode limitations

While the Sentinel mode theory outlined in the previous section seems clear, in practice there are some limitations. First of all, it should be noted that Sentinel mode only works if the vehicle has at least 20% battery. Tesla has chosen to impose this threshold to avoid any unpleasant surprises: namely that an owner does not come back to pick up his car to find it flat. However, it is not uncommon to park for a few minutes with less than 20% battery: here the Sentinel mode could have been of interest in the event of degradation, but you have to learn to do without.

Similarly, the cabin’s overheating protection must be deactivated if the Sentinel mode is active, which can pose a dilemma for the owner during the hottest periods: let the interior temperature rise to 80 degrees, or else potentially have no evidence of a collision or vandalism?

Tesla Model 3 Sentinel Mode 1
Sentinel mode settings // Source: Bob Jouy for Frandroid

Then, and this is probably what makes Sentinel mode not always loved by owners: ghost consumption. Indeed, if your Tesla is parked with the Sentinel mode active, it will not go to sleep, since it must monitor the surroundings. Thus, the vehicle will consume energy to keep itself awake. You can then find your car with several percentages of less battery after a night where it has stood guard.

Unfortunately, there are also a lot of false positives: this involves recording events that are of no interest, for example leaves moving on a tree due to the wind, or even a flashing light. When the driver returns to his car, he will be greeted with a most disturbing message, indicating that hundreds of events have been recorded by the Sentinel mode, while there was absolutely no suspicious activity.

Sentinel report
A bad surprise when you wake up with more than 240 Sentinel events // Source: Bob Jouy for Frandroid

How do I see the Sentinel Mode video?

To view Sentinel events, it is necessary to use the in-vehicle viewer. You will then see the event from the point of view of the four cameras that were recording at that time, and can switch between these views in one click

This is a small limit, but it will probably disappear soon. It is currently not possible to view the car’s cameras remotely. If you are parked with the Sentinel active, and you want to check that there is nothing suspicious around your Tesla, you will have no choice but to go to the car, then use the famous viewer or to remove the USB storage medium to see what is there.

If we are to believe the latest rumours, the Tesla application will soon allow the events of Sentinel mode to be viewed remotely, which will delight many owners of the brand’s vehicles.

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