Stuck in Reverse? Tesla Abandons Radar, Restricts Features

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
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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]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

Consumer advocate tracking industry trends, regulation, and the bitter-sweet nature of modern automotive tech. Research focused and gut driven.

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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.)

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    • 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).]

  • Honda1 Yeah you are right, just keep raising the price on everything so only the rich can afford to drive in, keep the peasants on the nasty subway.
  • Dukeisduke Some Aggie's used Honda Fit. BTW, that looks like a VIR (Texas Vehicle Inspection Report) on the front passenger, so I'm guessing it just passed its annual safety and emissions inspection. The safety inspections go away after 2024, but the emissions inspections will continue (in 17 metropolitan counties).
  • Stuki Moi "....need to be dealt with through increased enforcement efforts."Everything "need to be dealt with through increased enforcement efforts." By ever more totalitarian Dear Leaders. And ever more jackboot "enforcers." Just another day in the Dysfunctional States of Dystopia
  • John It is ashame that a company that evaluates toaster ovens, like consumer reports, is allowed to cast such negative press upon what is perhaps the world's best selling pickup truck, such being a classic engineering marvel like the ford f150 series. I have personally bought, lived with, and have driven these vehicles for almost half a century, and I can tell you that to me they are incredible wonderfully crafted machines that have been not only helpful in every respect a truck can be, but beautiful to drive particularly with the modern technology packages now incorporated in their systems packages. I say leave the evaluations and judgement calls to those who's knowledge of automotive engineering and design are expert to the matter in question.
  • Tassos Tassos' Playmate of the dayI could not resist this one, which is a Gorgeous S class, and sold for practically peanuts, $2,600!!!! It is a lowly 300 SE from 1989, big, safe as hell, heavy and underpowered. The IDEAL car to buy for your punk kid going to college. And you can buy THREE of them for the price of that POS Honda Fit Clown car!!!!