Tesla All-In For Computer Vision

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Tesla is abandoning radar in favor of a self-driving system that relies entirely on cameras.

What’s new: The electric car maker announced it will no longer include radar sensors on Model 3 sedans and Model Y compact SUVs sold in North America. Tesla is the only major manufacturer of autonomous vehicles to bet solely on computer vision. Most others rely on a combination of lidar, radar, and cameras.

How it works: Tesla has dropped radar only in the U.S. and only in its two most popular models. It aims to gather data and refine the technology before making the change in Model S, Model X, and vehicles sold outside the U.S.

  • The eight-camera system called Tesla Vision will provide sensory input for Autopilot driver-assistance features such as lane controls as well as the Full Self-Driving upgrade, which automatically parks and summons vehicles, slows for stop signals, and automates highway driving. Such features will be “limited or inactive” during the transition.
  • The move comes on the heels of earlier statements that touted cameras. “When radar and vision disagree, which one do you believe?” Musk said in a tweet on April 10. “Vision has much more precision, so better to double down on vision than do sensor fusion.”
  • CEO Elon Musk predicted that Tesla Vision would help the company’s vehicles achieve full autonomy by the end of 2021. (Musk has a history of declaring ambitious goals his company has failed to meet.)

Behind the news: Some people in the self-driving car industry favor using relatively expensive lidar and radar sensors in addition to low-cost cameras because they provide more information and thus greater safety. Camera-only advocates counter that humans can drive safely perceiving only images, so we should build AI that does the same. Most companies working on autonomous vehicles have chosen the more expensive route  as the fastest way to reach full autonomy safely. Once they get there, the thinking goes, they can attend to bringing the cost down.

Why it matters: If Tesla’s bet on cameras pays off, it could have an outsize influence on future self-driving technology.

We’re thinking: While it’s great to see ambitious plans to commercialize computer vision, Tesla’s initiative will require tests on public streets. That means countless drivers will be the company’s unwitting test subjects — a situation that, as ever, demands strong oversight by road-safety authorities.

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