Stuck in Reverse? Tesla Abandons Radar, Restricts Features


Tesla is abandoning radar on its more affordable vehicles so it can deploy something that sounds like a vintage color motion picture process where the hues really manage to jump off the screen.

Tesla Vision” is the current process the company will use to collect and interpret the information necessary to operate semi-automated systems on the Model 3 and Model Y. But it feels like a step backward, if we’re being honest, and will result in cars that have “temporarily limited” abilities.

With autonomous systems and advanced driving aids apparently hitting a brick wall in terms of development, their shortcomings have become glaringly apparent. Still, the best systems seem to be the ones with the most versatile sensor arrays and Tesla’s new setup certainly looks more basic on the surface. The manufacturer previously utilized a forward-facing radar that theoretically allowed it better imaging capabilities in conditions where a camera might be lacking (e.g. extremely low-light conditions or estimating distance). Tesla Vision throws that out the window for a solution that only needs to use the eight cameras spread across the vehicle.

From Tesla:

We are continuing the transition to Tesla Vision, our camera-based Autopilot system. 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. 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.

With many of the companies leading the charge toward true vehicular autonomy using cameras, radar, and lidar, it’s surprising to see Tesla trimming down its own hardware — especially when the changes will result in the cars missing out on some features. Autosteer will now be limited to a maximum speed of 75 mph and require a longer minimum following distance. Customers may also find their vehicles shipped without Smart Summon and Emergency Lane Departure Avoidance.

Those are some heavy losses on a vehicle that you probably bought specifically for its technical showpieces. Though the company said these setbacks will only be temporary, it has also promised full self-driving (FSD) for years now and recently took heavy criticism for underdelivering. Tesla plans on restoring features over several weeks, via over-the-air updates. But we wouldn’t assume anything here.

We’re wondering what the reasoning behind this was. While the company has always said it wasn’t interested in lidar, it has been actively pursuing radar technologies for years. Its current system, the ARS4-B from Continental, is also a fairly popular unit that can be found in plenty of vehicles with modest price tags.

Perhaps the required 77-GHz radar chipset has fallen prey to the dreaded semiconductor shortage. Of course, that’s just speculation on the part of your author based partly on these changes only pertaining to the North American market. Tesla certainly hasn’t said that’s the reason and probably wouldn’t want to admit it if there was a slick way to circumvent the problem (cough).

But the thing that’s truly troubling is how the manufacturer is effectively beta testing this new system on its flesh-and-blood customers. All sensors are fallible and having redundancies is never a bad idea. We’ve seen vehicles from all manufacturers act erratically when camera arrays are covered in road grime or assaulted with an overabundance of sunlight. Tesla products are no different and it’s difficult to imagine Tesla Vision is going to help the company make full self-driving a reality by the end of this year. Not that it really matters. The automaker has repeatedly delayed FSD, with the last empty promise targeting May 2021. Elon Musk has since claimed the driving suite will be ready sometime this summer. But you’ll still have to be ready to take over control of the vehicle at a moment’s notice, which kind of defeats the purpose of having it.

[Image: Tesla]

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