By: Nick Gambino
“Good thing about radar is that, unlike lidar (which is visible wavelength) it can see through rain, snow, fog and dust,” Elon Musk said in a tweet five years ago. It seems he’s changed his tune. Recently, the Tesla CEO has started pushing for their electric vehicles to be fully dependent on cameras for the self-driving AutoPilot feature. Now, the company is putting their money where their mouth is and has started shipping both the Model Y and Model S without radar.
To say this is controversial would be an understatement. Others in the EV and auto industries challenge the sole use of camera assist in self-driving features. Cameras are handicapped in low-vision scenarios like heavy rain, falling snow, glaring sun, etc. By setting up redundancies like radar and lidar sensors, you ensure the safety of the driver if a camera goes down.
“Our AI-based software architecture has been increasingly reliant on cameras, to the point where radar is becoming unnecessary earlier than expected,” Tesla said in their Q1 update.
Now there’s something to be said about the 8 cameras and 12 ultrasonic sensors working together, supported by AI software. Maybe if it was the sole system, it would be able to accomplish a lot more.
Still, I can’t imagine what scenario convinced Tesla that this was a smart move. Obviously by getting rid of radar sensors you’re saving money, a factor that can’t be ignored. Tesla has been trying to figure out how to sell their EVs for cheaper, allowing them to compete with an industry dominated by gas-powered cars.
Then again, Elon Musk is one of those rare specimens who thinks differently and launches us forward in technologies in a way others can’t. Just look at SpaceX and, of course, Tesla. So maybe he’s got something up his sleeve or is seeing something we can’t.
I use AutoPilot in my Model Y sparingly and only on the highway. My hands stay on the wheel and my eyes on the road, ready to take control whenever I need. And I have one of the electric cars with radar sensors. I can’t imagine I’d feel safer if my EV didn’t have radar. I know it’d be the opposite.
The new Model Y and Model S EVs will arrive with limited AutoPilot and AutoSteering capabilities with plans for over-the-air updates to reengage the features.