A new report states that Tesla engineers tried to convince Elon Musk not to give up on radar for its Autopilot and self-driving effort.
Tesla has a weird history with radar sensors for its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving vehicle programs.
The automaker decided to remove its front-facing radar and, more recently, the ultrasonic sensors from its sensor suite.
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 in 2021 and removed the ultrasonic sensors last year.
However, we now learn that not everyone at Tesla was on board with this significant change.
A new report from SF Gate, which claims to have talked to several former Tesla employees, describes an effort to try to convince Musk not to remove the radar:
Some Tesla engineers were aghast, said former employees with knowledge of his reaction, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. They contacted a trusted former executive for advice on how to talk Musk out of it, in previously unreported pushback. Without radar, Teslas would be susceptible to basic perception errors if the cameras were obscured by raindrops or even bright sunlight, problems that could lead to crashes.
The report claimed that Musk overruled a significant number of engineers who tried to warn that removing the radar would be problematic.
The report goes as far as linking the removal of the radar to an uptick in accidents related to Tesla Autopilot:
Musk was unconvinced and overruled his engineers. In May 2021 Tesla announced it was eliminating radar on new cars. Soon after, the company began disabling radar in cars already on the road. The result, according to interviews with nearly a dozen former employees and test drivers, safety officials and other experts, was an uptick in crashes, near misses and other embarrassing mistakes by Tesla vehicles suddenly deprived of a critical sensor.
However, the situation was a little more complicated than that. Electrek spoke to Musk around the time of the removal of the radar, and the CEO was mostly frustrated with the quality of the radars and still believed that higher definition radars would improve Autopilot/Full Self-Driving.
He told Electrek:
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.
Sure enough, two years later, Tesla is now including a high-resolution radar in its latest sensor suite for Autopilot and Full Self-Driving.
The report also claimed that Musk had several Tesla Autopilot engineers, even Ashok Elluswamy, the head of Autopilot and self-driving software, work on Twitter.
I am sure that many people at Tesla weren’t happy about removing the radar. It’s not exactly surprising. Honestly, I am more concerned about the claim in the report that Musk had Tesla Autopilot/Self-Driving engineers work on Twitter.
Tesla is years behind its self-driving promises; all its staff should be solely focused on making right on those promises. Having them work on Twitter is laughing in the face of Tesla customers who paid up to $15,000 for the Full Self-Driving package.