Many of the cars on the road today have rudimentary self-driving capabilities, but Tesla pushes the autonomous envelope with Autopilot and the spendy Full Self-Driving upgrade. It was one of the first to take self-driving features seriously, outfitting its vehicles with a raft of sensors to make it happen. After removing the radar modules, Tesla now seems poised to bring them back. Is this a sign that its camera-only approach isn’t working out?
For a car to drive itself, regardless of whether it’s an EV, it needs as much data about its environment as possible. For companies like Waymo and Uber, that means a full lidar rig bolted to the roof. Tesla has never gone that far, relying on a combination of cameras, radar, and ultrasonic sensors to get the job done. In 2021, Tesla began shipping vehicles without radar, and it pulled ultrasonic sensors from some cars earlier this year. Apparently, this was done at the direction of CEO Elon Musk, who wants the company to rely only on cameras and machine learning algorithms.
Tesla has built powerful supercomputers to train its AI, but the “vision-only” approach might not be working despite Musk’s yearly promise that Tesla is on the verge of cracking Full Self-Driving (FSD). A new filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reveals that Tesla is working on a new HD radar system operating in the 76-77 GHz range. According to TechCrunch, the frequency and mechanical design of the sensor are characteristic of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS).
— Tony DeLuca (@Taka87) December 6, 2022
Tesla made the initial filing in June of this year, asking the FCC for confidential treatment through Dec. 7. Last month, it asked to extend the expiration of the confidentiality treatment for another 60 days. “To avoid any unnecessary disclosure and competitive harm before our product launching, we would like to request above exhibits to be held for another 60 days until 2023-02-07,” the filing reads.
Tesla notes that it does not plan to begin marketing the new radar until January 2023, and it doesn’t say which vehicles will have it. Perhaps the company’s less expensive vehicles will continue only using cameras and AI, while the Model S and Cybertruck get upgraded radar. However, that would make it tough to justify the same $15,000 upsell for Full Self-Driving on a Model 3 that doesn’t have radar.
And with safety concerns that have attracted regulatory scrutiny, should Tesla be selling cars that are explicitly worse at driving themselves? If it weren’t worth having radar, Tesla wouldn’t be bringing it back. If you’ve been eying a Tesla, you might want to wait until early next year to make the call.