Tesla told the FCC that it plans to market a new radar starting next month. The move raises even more concerns about potentially needed updates to its hardware suite to achieve the promised self-driving capability.
Since 2016, Tesla has claimed that all its vehicles produced going forward have “all the needed hardware” to become self-driving with future software updates.
It turned out not to be true.
Tesla already had to upgrade its onboard computer and cameras in earlier vehicles, and it has yet to achieve self-driving capability. Its Full Self-Driving (FSD) software is still in beta and doesn’t enable fully autonomous driving.
The automaker not only had to upgrade its hardware in some cases, but it even removed some hardware. First, it was the front-facing radar and more recently the ultrasonic sensors.
It’s all part of its “Tesla Vision” approach where the automaker believes that the best way to achieve self-driving capability is through cameras being the only sensors. The logic is that the roads are designed to be operated by humans who operate cars through vision (eyes) and biological neural nets (brain).
Tesla believes that the best way to replicate that is through cameras to replace the eyes and neural nets running on a computer to replace the brain.
The company removed the radars on its vehicles last year and the ultrasonic sensors earlier this year.
That’s why it was surprising earlier this year when we reported on Tesla filing with the FCC to use a new radar in its vehicles. The FCC had granted a confidential treatment to Tesla in order not to release the details of the new radar.
Those confidential treatments are generally good for six months, and it was coming up tomorrow, but Tesla has filed an extension:
In the request, Tesla confirms that it plans to start marketing the new device in “mid-January.”
Tesla CEO Elon Musk told Electrek in June of last year after Tesla stopped using its radar:
The probability of safety will be higher with pure vision than vision+radar, not lower. Vision has become so good that radar actually reduces signal/noise.
However, the CEO also added that Tesla might still use radar if it had a “very high-resolution radar”:
A very high resolution radar would be better than pure vision, but such a radar does not exist. I mean vision with high res radar would be better than pure vision.
We saw some indications of Tesla working on that. We previously reported on Tesla looking to add a new “4D” imaging radar with twice the range of its previous radar.
Last weekend, we also reported on a Tesla Model 3 prototype that potentially featured a new Autopilot/Full Self-Driving hardware suite.
It looks like what Musk told us last year might be happening and Tesla is getting ready to put a more advanced radar inside its vehicles, and potentially a whole new sensor suite based on the Model 3 prototype.
Top comment by Vinc
I never understood the vision-only approach. If the point of autopilot is to be safer than humans, the system has to exceed human capabilities. My Tesla has AP1, which is radar-based, and it is extra reassuring to know that, while I am the one supplying the eyes, the car may be able to see what I can't.
There’s also the possibility that Tesla is referring to an in-cabin radar, which the company has introduced in the Model S before, but considering that the application is talking about an “HD radar,” it seems more likely that it is for driver-assist features.
Tesla was always going to keep improving its Autopilot/self-driving hardware so there’s nothing wrong with what’s happening, but it still feeds into the growing concerns that Tesla can’t achieve its promised self-driving capability with the current hardware.
So there’s a possibility that Tesla is going to unveil a new suite of self-driving hardware next month that just improves the capability and Tesla still plans to deliver self-driving on the current hardware.
But I think there’s room for concerns after Tesla has been wrong about self-driving several times already. It might be wrong about the current vehicles being able to achieve it.
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