Tesla To Drop Radar And Use Camera-based Autopilot

Image credit: Tesla

Several new models from electric car maker will utilise a camera-only Autopilot going forward, as Tesla drops radar sensor

Tesla has confirming a change to its Autopilot self-driving technology, with the electric car maker dropping the use of radar.

Instead Tesla will utilise a camera-focused Autopilot system for its Model 3 and Model Y vehicles in North America starting this month.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk had tweeted on 12 March that the world’s most valuable car maker would move to a “pure vision” approach, combining cameras and artificial intelligence.

Image credit: Tesla
Image credit: Tesla

Pure vision

Tesla expanded upon this on Tuesday in a blog post, in which it confirmed it was dropping radar from its driver-assistance features, including Autopilot.

“We are continuing the transition to Tesla Vision, our camera-based Autopilot system,” the firm blogged. “Beginning with deliveries in May 2021, Model 3 and Model Y vehicles built for the North American market will no longer be equipped with radar.”

“Instead, these will be the first Tesla vehicles to rely on camera vision and neural net processing to deliver Autopilot, Full-Self Driving and certain active safety features,” it wrote. “Customers who ordered before May 2021 and are matched to a car with Tesla Vision will be notified of the change through their Tesla Accounts prior to delivery.”

Tesla did state that all new Model S and Model X, as well as all vehicles built for markets outside of North America, will continue to be equipped with radar and will have radar-supported Autopilot functionality until the firm has determined the appropriate time to transition those vehicles to Tesla Vision.

It is known that radar sensors are relatively expensive, and processing data from them involves significant computing power in a vehicle.

With this move, Tesla is taking a different approach from rival car makers such as GM Cruise, Alphabet’s Waymo, Aurora and others that utilise radar and lidar, alongside cameras in their systems.

US market

Tesla has previously told shareholders that it believes “a vision-only system is ultimately all that is needed for full autonomy” and that it was planning to switch the US market to Tesla Vision, CNBC reported.

The new Tesla vehicles will be the first to rely on camera vision and neural net processing to deliver “Autopilot, Full-Self Driving and certain active safety features.”

The car maker did warn that Autopilot and FSD (Full Self Driving) systems may not be fully operational during this period of technical adjustments.

The FSD pack costs an extra $10,000 when a customer purchases a Tesla.

“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,” said the firm.

At the moment, Tesla’s Autopilot enables a Tesla vehicle to “steer, accelerate and brake automatically within its lane”.

FSD on the other hand adds features such as automatic lane changing and summon (where a driver can call the Tesla in a car park to come to the driver).

Fatal crashes

Tesla continues to state that its cars with Autopilot or FSD, require human supervision.

It comes after some drivers have increasingly pushed the limits of the technology, sometimes with fatal results.

Recently a Tesla owner posted videos of himself on social media without his hands on the steering wheel. He later died in a fatal crash in Southern California.

There was also another recent fatal accident when a ‘driverless’  Tesla Model S burst into flames, when it crashed into a tree north of Houston in April.

Tesla said the car had a driver, directly contradicting local law enforcement at the time.

In September 2020, a Tesla driver in Canada was charged when police found the driver and his passenger sleeping in fully reclined seats, whilst the Tesla drove along a highway in autonomous mode at speeds of more than 140kph (86mph).

Last July Elon Musk said that Tesla was “very close” to achieving level 5 autonomous driving technology.

For those that don’t know, level 5 is the holy grail of autonomous driving technology, as level 5 vehicles will not require human intervention, and need for a human drivers is eliminated.