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This article was published on May 26, 2021


Tesla is removing radar from Autopilot, and it makes absolutely no sense

Model 3 and Model Y vehicles in the North American market will now use cameras

Tesla is removing radar from Autopilot, and it makes absolutely no sense
Ioanna Lykiardopoulou
Story by

Ioanna Lykiardopoulou

Ioanna is a writer at SHIFT. She likes the transition from old to modern, and she's all about shifting perspectives. Ioanna is a writer at SHIFT. She likes the transition from old to modern, and she's all about shifting perspectives.

Forget about radar for self-driving tech. Tesla announced yesterday that it’s officially transitioning to its camera-based autonomous driving system, known as Tesla Vision.

Starting this month, Model 3 and Model Y vehicles, which will be delivered to the North American market, will be the first cars to ditch radar entirely, and employ camera vision and neural net processing for the performance of “Autopilot, Full-Self Driving, and certain active safety features.”

Naturally, one wonders why on earth would Tesla make such a change. And when Elon Musk twitted the launch of “pure vision Autopilot,” there were several comments expressing the same question.

In fact, it makes no sense to skip radar and rely solely on cameras.

Cameras may offer higher resolutions and lower production cost, but they have significant limitations. They are less effective in bad weather conditions and have lower accuracy during nighttime. Most notably, the neural networks that determine what is being seen by the cameras require large amounts of training and processing power – and both of these factors are intrinsically limited within a car’s computer system.

On the other hand, radar sensors are much more reliable as they offer better range and higher accuracy in terms of object distance and speed – no matter the weather or light conditions. They do have lower resolution, however, which means that they require tech enabling them to run at higher frequencies, and that’s costly.

To put it in a nutshell, the transition to cameras reduces cost which seems to be a larger trend for Tesla. Nevertheless, it’s impossible to comprehend how a camera could offer the same level of safety radar provides, which raises serious vehicle and road safety concerns. The excellent thread by Ed Niedermeyer in the tweet below is illuminative: 

To make matters worse, Tesla warns that its Vision system will probably cause temporary limitations to some features.

  • 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.

What’s more, customers don’t really have a choice regarding the radar or camera system of their prospective vehicles. Those who ordered a car before May 2021 and are matched to a model with Tesla Vision will be notified of the change through their Tesla accounts prior to delivery.

Whether this switch will be successful for Tesla is highly doubtful. Let’s hope that it doesn’t result in any negative impacts on vehicle safety. Nobody wants that.


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