Elon Musk teased back in March that Tesla would ditch the current radar and lidar detectors in its vehicles for a pure camera-only approach. Musk, at that time, tweeted about his intentions of moving the company to a pure vision approach. Now almost 2 months later, the company has finally officially announced that it will be using a camera-only approach for their best-selling cars, namely the model 3 and model Y.
The Model 3 and Model Y cars are made for customers in the US and Canada and used to have radar and lidar plus cameras powering the autopilot system onboard. However, radar sensors are expensive and take a lot of processing power that has to be set up in the vehicle itself.
The company announced in a blog post that it will be shifting to a camera-based system to enable Autopilot features such as traffic-adjusted cruise control or automatic lane-keeping. Tesla has told its shareholders before that “a vision-only system is ultimately all that is needed for full autonomy”. Model 3 and Model Y will be the first Tesla vehicles to feature camera-only vision and neural net processing to deliver “Autopilot, Full-Self Driving, and certain active safety features”.
Musk announced a beta for their new Full-Self Driving or FSD mode back in March in a tweet and has since officially tweeted that he plans to release an improved version of the beta software released 2 months earlier. “Pure vision Autopilot is now rolling out in North America,” said the eccentric tweeter. You can read the tweet below.
The company has given a disclaimer that this new technology won’t be as useful at the start. They said that “For a short period during this transition, cars with Tesla Vision may be delivered with some features temporarily limited or inactive, including Autosteer will be limited to a maximum speed of 75 mph and a longer minimum following distance. Smart Summon (if equipped) and Emergency Lane Departure Avoidance may be disabled at delivery”.
Apparently, Tesla needs to iron out a lot of details. You just can’t get enough data from a camera alone. Many electric carmakers rely on radar and lidar because the sensors provide additional data that can be very useful for the car and give it a more robust way to detect and avoid obstacles in its path. This is especially true during nighttime and when visibility is an issue.
Musk has called Lidar sensors “a crutch” and a “fool’s errand” for Autopilot systems. He said that “Anyone relying on LIDAR is doomed. Doomed. Expensive sensors that are unnecessary. It’s like having a whole bunch of expensive appendices… you’ll see”. However, it seems that he hasn’t dismissed the sensors entirely.
We might just chalk this down to Tesla trying new things out. The company is looking to still keep radar in its higher cost offerings i.e. the Model S and Model X vehicles.