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Everyone's video conferencing at home—Elon Musk says you may be doing it in Teslas too

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI

Video-conferencing has reached a new level of ubiquity amid the Covid-19 pandemic as millions of people work from home. And now Elon Musk has said that Teslas could have video conferencing at some point.

"Yeah, definitely a future feature," Musk responded to the suggestion in a tweet May 5.

So when could people be holding on-the-go meetings in their Teslas?

"It's not too far, but it's not tomorrow," says Khalid Kark, a director with Deloitte Consulting who advises companies on implementing new technologies.

Working remotely during the coronavirus pandemic has "accelerated quite a bit" many companies' adoption of video-conferencing software for meetings and collaboration, Kark tells CNBC Make It. That factor alone could make it more likely that we could see healthy demand for in-car video-conferencing features in the near future, especially among "certain types of executives and workers where they've got busy schedules and they're running from one place to the other," he says.

While having fully autonomous driving capabilities would likely help further accelerate adoption of in-car video-conferencing, Kark says in the nearer term, it still could be a convenient time-saver for drivers to pull over and take a video-conference call when the car is not in motion.

Shortly before he started working remotely himself a couple of months ago, Kark says "there were at least three times where I had to pull over a car and take a conference call. And, I would love to have the ability to do video-conferencing if available.

In fact, with the current pandemic forcing scores of employers to rethink policies around remote-working and flexible scheduling, Kark says in-car video-conferencing could become an even more obvious solution.

"With workplace flexibility, you may be spending half a day [in the office] and then maybe driving somewhere. [If] you're just getting off of work and you can quickly take another call before you go in your car, or maybe even if you have to pull over, would be great."

One possible obstacle to in-car video-conferencing that Kark sees — aside from driver distraction, which could be avoided by either advancing autonomous driving technology, or simply operating the video-conferencing software only when the car isn't in motion, or the user is not the car's driver — would be security. Video-conferencing software company Zoom, for example — which has seen major growth in meeting participants in recent months — has faced criticism over exposed security flaws that the company is now working to fix.

(In recent years, there have been incidents where hackers have been able to tap into cars' Internet-connected entertainment and navigation systems to take control of the vehicles themselves, and even turn off the engine remotely. In one controlled experiment, hackers won a contest by exposing a security flaw in Tesla's internal web browser and took control of the car's dashboard display.)

At this point, when a Tesla video-conferencing feature could actually arrive is really anybody's guess. At the moment, Tesla's Autopilot software is not yet fully autonomous, as the company notes that it still requires "a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment." 

Full autonomy, where a driver could conceivably be watching a movie or chatting on a videoconference without paying attention to the road while in motion, is not yet available in any consumer vehicle and some experts believe that technology could still be as much as a decade away. (In the past, Musk said he felt Tesla could launch a fleet of "autonomous robotaxis" by 2020, but he's since backed off that aggressive timeline.)

Musk did not expand on a proposed timeline for when video-conferencing technology might be available in a Tesla, or whether such an option would be able to operate while the car is in motion, and Tesla did not immediately respond to CNBC Make It's request for comment. 

However, some websites have pointed out that Tesla's Model 3 sedan is already equipped with a cabin-facing camera on the car's rearview mirror that could eventually be used as part of a video-conferencing platform in those cars. 

For what it's worth, Musk said in April that those cameras would likely be put to use to monitor passengers once the company moves forward with plans to launch a fleet of self-driving "robotaxis — and, Musk has also hinted that the camera could be used with the vehicles' in-car karoake, or "Caraoke", system.

Musk also recently hinted on Twitter that he'd like to add in-car versions of popular games like Minecraft as well as augmented reality games like Pokemon Go to Teslas. 

Tesla's in-car entertainment software already includes video games such as Beach Buggy Racing 2, a racing game where you can use the steering wheel of your actual Tesla to steer a virtual Tesla through a race course in the game (of course, the game only works when the car is in park).

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