Tesla Is Walking Back Some of Its Tech

Find out why Tesla is removing radar sensors from its cars and what this means for the future of self-driving vehicles.
Written by Alex Healey
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Mar 12, 2022
Tesla
has had a difficult couple of months. First, it was forced into an
embarrassing and wide-ranging recall
after the NHTSA discovered that its semi-autonomous driving software was behaving erratically.
Next came the admission that the much-hyped
Tesla CyberTruck is delayed yet again
, and some industry watchers think it may have been shelved altogether. And now Tesla has announced that it is taking all radar sensors out of its cars. What on earth is going on?
The latest issue, it seems, is not related to defective technology, but part of a wider plan to rely solely on cameras for self-driving. The Model 3 and Model Y had their sensors removed in 2021, and now the same is happening to Tesla’s larger vehicles, the Model S and Model X.
Tesla calls this camera-only system “Tesla Vision.” According to CEO Elon Musk, it pairs the visual data captured by cameras with neural net processing, in the same way that human eyes and brains work together. 

Why is Tesla removing sensors from its cars?

Last week, Tesla announced that all of its North American cars would utilize Tesla Vision—the carmaker's camera-based autonomous driving system—and no new models would have sensors. This sounds surprising at first. All other automakers are using lidar sensors, a detection system that uses light from a laser to determine the car’s surroundings.
But Tesla has never been one to follow a crowd, and Elon Musk is adamant that cameras, and not radar, will lead to better self-driving technology. Quoted by
Car and Driver
, Musk tweeted, "The road system was designed to work with biological neural nets & eyes, so a general solution to self-driving necessarily will require silicon neural nets & cameras. Real-World AI." 
This is consistent with his messaging last year, when Musk posted, “Humans drive with eyes & biological neural nets, so makes sense that cameras & silicon neural nets are the only way to achieve a generalized solution to self-driving."
So there you have it. From now on, all Tesla’s made for the North American market will rely solely on cameras to support the Autopilot software and any other autonomous driving functions.

What does this mean for drivers?

Radars are helpful for alerting drivers to nearby objects, but only in low-urgency situations, like slowly backing into a garage or parallel parking. In the long term, Tesla’s dedication to cameras should lead to better self-driving cars. That is, cars that can see and analyze a situation up ahead, and respond as a human driver would, even at high speeds.
In the short term, there may be a few hiccups. Tesla has already announced its autosteer feature will have to be temporarily capped at 80 mph, and adaptive cruise control will require a longer following distance until Tesla Vision can get up to speed.
Aside from this transition period, Tesla is confident about the direction its self-driving technology is headed, although it still has work to do to convince the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking, for example, have yet to be approved on vehicles without sensors. But Tesla suggests it will get approval through confirmatory testing in the coming weeks.
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