REUTERS: Tesla Inc has removed radar sensors from its semi-autonomous driving system, Autopilot, raising concerns about the safety of the camera-only version, Tesla Vision.
Tesla aims to make the driver assistance system fully autonomous, and many in this young industry are skeptical of how a vision-only system works, claiming that such systems face challenges in the dark, l sunny glare and bad weather conditions.
Safety assessment groups have ditched their labels until they test the newly configured cars.
Yet Tesla chief executive Elon Musk has already surprised the industry – first and foremost by making the electric vehicle maker the world’s most valuable automaker.
Here are some questions and answers about Tesla’s bet on a camera-based system.
HOW DOES THE TESLA SYSTEM WORK, WITH AND WITHOUT RADAR?
Tesla began shipping the Model 3 and Y models in May with a driver assistance system based on eight cameras mounted around the car and without radar. Cameras, like the eyes, send images to computer networks, like the brain, which recognize and analyze objects.
Over the years, Tesla’s perspective on the radar has changed.
In May 2016, a Tesla car crashed, killing the driver, when the autopilot failed to detect a white semi-truck driving through in front of it.
Later that year, Tesla announced a plan to give radar a primary role in navigation while describing a false alarm problem with some radar systems that needed to be corrected.
“The good thing about radar is that unlike lidar … it can see through rain, snow, fog and dust,” Musk tweeted in 2016. Tesla also said that radar “plays an essential role in detecting and responding to forward objects”. Tesla does not use a more expensive lidar sensor, which gives more precise information about the shape of an object than radar.
Tesla drivers have complained of “ghost braking” when their cars suddenly stop on freeways under an overpass or bridge.
Musk said the new camera-only system would likely be safer than radar because of less “noise” or confusing signals, industry news site Electrek reported.
After the accident in May 2016, Tesla had similar crashes of cars crashing into semi-trucks and stationary police cars and fire trucks. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is currently investigating 24 accidents involving Tesla cars.
HOW DO OTHER SELF-DRIVING TECHNOLOGIES WORK?
Most automakers and autonomous vehicle manufacturers such as Alphabet Inc’s Waymo use three types of sensors: cameras, radar, and lidar.
Radar systems, like cameras, are relatively inexpensive. They work in bad weather but lack the resolution to accurately determine the shape of objects. Lidar has a higher resolution, but is vulnerable to weather conditions.
“You have to use all the different types of sensors and then combine them,” said Raj Rajkumar, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, reflecting a common view of the industry.
Tesla’s camera-centric system is “much more difficult to design, but it is also much cheaper” than Waymo’s laser-based lidar approach, allowing the electric car maker to further develop and improve its technology, said Andrej Karpathy, director of artificial intelligence at Tesla. in a “Robot Brains” podcast in March.
WHAT IS TESLA LOSING BY ABANDONING RADAR?
There is a lot of debate on this issue.
The loss of the radar degrades the driver assistance features enough “to make them less usable or even unusable in adverse weather conditions”, Steven Shladover, research engineer at the University of Berkeley in California.
“It makes no sense technologically – just a way to reduce the cost of components,” he said.
Since radar is good at measuring distances accurately, its loss could affect emergency braking to avoid collisions with slowed-down vehicles, said Ram Machness, commercial director of advanced radar maker Arbe Robotics.
“If you let go of the radar without proving that vision alone also does this job, then you are compromising safety,” Telanon, developer of a driver assistance system, said on Twitter.
Tesla said some features of the driving assistant, including its ability to keep speed to the pace of the car in front, may be temporarily limited or inactive upon delivery. He said he would start restoring functionality through software updates in the coming weeks.
Musk told Electrek that the vision system has improved so much that it is better without radar.
Last week, NHTSA removed its advanced safety features label for new Model 3 and Y vehicles, and Consumer Reports dropped its “premier” label. The two intend to test the vision system only.
WHO KNOWS BEST?
Tesla’s plan flies in the face of most of the autonomous driving industry, but it’s hard to say who is right. No company has yet to roll out a fully functional autonomous driving system on a large scale, and the industry as a whole is years behind initial projections.
(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin in Berkeley, Calif .; Additional reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Peter Henderson and Matthew Lewis)