Stuck in Reverse? Tesla Abandons Radar, Restricts Features

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
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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  • Islander800 Islander800 on May 27, 2021

    Gee, maybe Sir Elon is feeling the NHTSA breathing down his neck as they're stepping up investigations into his "Autopilot" and "Full Self-Drive" features that have bamboozled his gullible sycophants into believing his machines can actually DRIVE THEMSELVES and are getting killed in the process. Here's a friendly suggestion, Musk - cease and desist from calling your software "Auto Pilot" and "Full Self-Drive" before you get that order from the NHTSA - because they're no such thing and you're a threat to public safety by insisting on referring to them as such.

  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on May 29, 2021

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality and Injury Reporting System Tool is starting to get some meaningful figures (there is a data lag) for Tesla. In the U.S., 2018MY sales volumes for Tesla were similar to [slightly higher than] Audi. The customer/driver profile 'should' be somewhat similar. (Don't know miles driven for each brand.) According to NHTSA, the number of 2018MY Tesla vehicles involved in fatal crashes (all calendar years, data through 2019) is 18. The corresponding figure for Audi is 30. [Interestingly (to me), 28% of the Tesla crashes involved a Speeding Vehicle (similar to BMW), but only 3% of the Audi crashes.] Buick and Chrysler also have similar sales volumes for 2018MY. The fatal crash figures for these brands are 19 and 49, respectively. (But you should check my work.)

    • See 7 previous
    • ToolGuy ToolGuy on May 30, 2021

      @ToolGuy Driver ages listed: . California Males: 22, 32, 37 . California Females: 21, 38 . Florida Male: 18 . Virginia Male: 46 [Note that the State refers to where the crash happened, not necessarily where the person resides. Also note that "Involving Speeding" does not necessarily mean that a particular driver was speeding (could be a multi-vehicle accident with another driver speeding).]

  • Danddd Chicago at night is crazy traveling in and out from the 'burbs. Taking the Ike back home around midnight and you'll see racers swerving by at 100mph plus. Dangerous enough we rarely go down there anymore. I plan my city trips between 9:30AM and back out by 1PM to miss the worst traffic.
  • SCE to AUX Good summary, Matt.I like EVs, but not bans, subsidies, or carbon credits. Let them find their own level.PM Sunak has done a good thing, but I'm surprised at how sensibly early he made the call. Hopefully they'll ban the ban altogether.
  • SCE to AUX "Having spoken to plenty of suppliers over the years, many have told me they tried to adapt to EV production only to be confronted with inconsistent orders."Lofty sales predictions followed by reality.I once worked (very briefly) for a key supplier to Segway, back when "Ginger" was going to change the world. Many suppliers like us tooled up to support sales in the millions, only to sell thousands - and then went bankrupt.
  • SCE to AUX "all-electric vehicles, resulting in a scenario where automakers need fewer traditional suppliers"Is that really true? Fewer traditional suppliers, but they'll be replaced with other suppliers. You won't have the myriad of parts for an internal combustion engine and its accessories (exhaust, sensors), but you still have gear reducers (sometimes two or three), electric motors with lots of internal components, motor mounts, cooling systems, and switchgear.Battery packs aren't so simple, either, and the fire recalls show that quality control is paramount.The rest of the vehicle is pretty much the same - suspension, brakes, body, etc.
  • Theflyersfan As crazy as the NE/Mid-Atlantic I-95 corridor drivers can be, for the most part they pay attention and there aren't too many stupid games. I think at times it's just too crowded for that stuff. I've lived all over the US and the worst drivers are in parts of the Midwest. As I've mentioned before, Ohio drivers have ZERO lane discipline when it comes to cruising, merging, and exiting. And I've just seen it in this area (Louisville) where many drivers have literally no idea how to merge. I've never seen an area where drivers have no problems merging onto an interstate at 30 mph right in front of you. There are some gruesome wrecks at these merge points because it looks like drivers are just too timid to merge and speed up correctly. And the weaving and merging at cloverleaf exits (which in this day and age need to all go away) borders on comical in that no one has a bloody clue of let car merge in, you merge right to exit, and then someone repeats behind you. That way traffic moves. Not a chance here.And for all of the ragging LA drivers get, I found them just fine. It's actually kind of funny watching them rearrange themselves like after a NASCAR caution flag once traffic eases up and they line up, speed up to 80 mph for a few miles, only to come to a dead halt again. I think they are just so used to the mess of freeways and drivers that it's kind of a "we'll get there when we get there..." kind of attitude.