Tesla trench radar for autopilot in Mannequin 3, Mannequin Y.

The interior of a Tesla Model S is shown in autopilot mode in San Francisco, California, the United States, on April 7, 2016.

Alexandria saga | Reuters

Tesla announced Tuesday that it is eliminating the need for radar in its driver assistance functions, including autopilot.

In a blog post, the company announced that its best-selling Models 3 and Y, which were made for customers in the US and Canada starting this month, would instead have a camera-based system to enable autopilot features like traffic-adjusted cruise control or automatic lane keeping .

Radar sensors are relatively expensive and processing data from them requires significant computing power in a vehicle. Tesla previously announced to shareholders that “a vision-only system is ultimately all that is required for full autonomy,” and that it was planning to move the US market to Tesla Vision. CEO Elon Musk said in a tweet on March 12th that the company would move to a “pure vision” approach.

Tesla said these will be the first Tesla vehicles to rely on camera vision and neural network processing to provide “autopilot, self-drive and certain active safety features.”

The company also warned that autopilot and FSD systems would not be as useful or powerful during this time of engineering adjustments.

“During this transition, vehicles with Tesla Vision may briefly ship with some features that are temporarily restricted or inactive. These include: Autosteer is limited to a maximum speed of 75 mph and a longer minimum tracking distance. Smart Summon (if available) and the avoidance of lane departure emergencies can be deactivated on delivery. “

Customers who have already ordered a Model 3 or Model Y but were not aware of this change will be informed before they accept delivery of their vehicles.

All new Tesla vehicles have extended driver assistance functions known as autopilot as standard.

Tesla also sells a $ 10,000 premium software package marketed as “Full Self Driving” or FSD. Tesla is offering selected drivers early access to a beta version of FSD – effectively Turn thousands of customers into software testers on the US public roads

According to the company’s website, autopilot is currently enabling a Tesla vehicle to “automatically steer, accelerate, and brake within its lane,” and FSD is adding features like automatic lane changing and summoning. With Summon, a driver can call his car to pick it up with the Tesla app like a remote control from a parking lot.

Tesla advises in its owner’s manual and website that the autopilot and FSD require active monitoring. However, some drivers mistakenly believe a Tesla is safe to operate hands-free, asleep at the wheel, or even sit in the back of the car.

A Tesla owner who posted social media videos of himself on autopilot with no hands on the steering wheel died in a fatal collision in southern California earlier this month. Another was arrested by the California Highway Patrol for taking his Tesla on unsafe rides where he was in the back seat and driving the car on public highways without a driver behind the wheel.

After Tesla’s official announcement on Tuesday, Musk tweeted: “Pure Vision Autopilot is now being rolled out in North America. In two weeks there will be an update of this production version, one week later FSD Beta V9.0 (also Pure Vision). The FSD subscription is approximately activated at the same time. “

The timing often shifts when Elon Musk announces a delivery date. In April, the Tesla CEO announced that a subscription version of FSD would be released in May. In January, on a earnings call, Musk announced that the FSD subscription would expire in the first quarter of 2021.

Mostly with radar and lidar

Other automakers are taking a different approach when developing, introducing and marketing automated driving systems. GM Cruise, Alphabet’s Waymo, Aurora, and others have incorporated radar and lidar into their systems alongside cameras.

While cameras record videos that analysts can label for human data and interpret by machine learning software, radar and lidar sensors provide additional data that cars can use to more robustly detect and avoid obstacles on the road – especially when visibility is poor. even at night or in bad weather.

Musk has called lidar a “crutch” and “fool hunt” and said it was too expensive and difficult to use. But he hasn’t completely fired Radar yet.

Tesla intends to keep the radar in its more expensive Model S and X vehicles, as well as Model 3 and Y vehicles made in China, or for shipping to markets outside of North America for the time being.

According to Phil Koopman, CTO of Edge Case Research and professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, Tesla should be able to offer some functionality through vision, but may need to reintroduce radar later to provide more advanced automated functionality.

“The sensors that are used by an SAE Level 2 (human driver who is responsible for monitoring safety at all times) are at the discretion of the manufacturer. Therefore, they may be able to provide at least some functions with just the camera, which should be taken into account that humans cannot be responsible for handling the camera, “said Koopman.

“Tesla’s functions are currently limited to this SAE level 2. If Tesla wants to achieve SAE level 4 (automated vehicle without monitoring the safety of the human driver – which is currently not possible) in the future, it is advisable to use any type of sensor to use they can get including cameras, radar, lidar and possibly others. “

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