Report: Tesla's Buying LiDAR Sensors After All

Chris Teague
by Chris Teague

Most of the media and internet pundits have been zeroed in on Tesla’s layoffs and what they could mean for the automaker and industry at large, but there’s another reported change in its operations that could signal a significant shift in how its vehicles are built. After CEO Elon Musk’s poo-pooing of LiDAR technology, Tesla now appears to be buying the sensors and has become a primary customer of a major supplier.

Luminar Technologies recently reported that Tesla was its largest LiDAR customer in the first quarter of 2024, with the automaker accounting for more than ten percent of its revenues during the first three months of the year. The technology uses lasers to build a picture of a vehicle’s surroundings, but Tesla has moved to camera/vision-based tech in its most recent builds.

While neither is perfect, the general consensus is that a combination of sensors, including camera, LiDAR, and other tech, is the best path forward. LiDAR is significantly more expensive than cameras alone, likely driving Tesla’s decision to cut it from production.

Reports of this move come as Tesla faces increased regulatory scrutiny for its driver assistance features, though much of its troubles come from how it monitors drivers’ behavior rather than external sensor functionality. It’s more likely that the automaker will employ LiDAR in its upcoming Robotaxi initiative, which is expected to be revealed in August.

Tesla would be well-served to consider employing LiDAR sensors in its consumer vehicles as well. Volvo will roll out the first Luminar sensors in the upcoming XC90, and criticisms of how vehicles read the world around them will only become more intense as time goes on. The automaker could use a win, and anything that helps convince regulators that it's focused on safety would be helpful to its cause.

[Image: kovop via Shutterstock]

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Chris Teague
Chris Teague

Chris grew up in, under, and around cars, but took the long way around to becoming an automotive writer. After a career in technology consulting and a trip through business school, Chris began writing about the automotive industry as a way to reconnect with his passion and get behind the wheel of a new car every week. He focuses on taking complex industry stories and making them digestible by any reader. Just don’t expect him to stay away from high-mileage Porsches.

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6 of 9 comments
  • MaintenanceCosts MaintenanceCosts on May 08, 2024

    More or less an admission that the radar-only cars will never do anything that could reasonably be marketed as "Full Self-Driving."

  • AZFelix AZFelix on May 08, 2024

    I have always wondered if the poor ability of Tesla cars in detecting children was due to their using camera only systems. Optical geometry explains that a child half the height of an adult seems to have the same height as that same adult standing twice as far away from the viewer.

    • See 2 previous
    • AZFelix AZFelix on May 08, 2024

      @D Tesla does use multiple cameras and if the system uses an effective parallax depth calculating program it would determine distances to objects. Tesla has stated that their algorithm also uses object recognition as a key component of its driving software. This is where problems could arise since it would be told or 'learn' what an average human shape and size is. The potential for confusion occurs if the distance calculation process either lags or does not have enough data to correlate how far away the person is from the car. Thus a child standing nearer to the car is 'determined' to be an adult further down the car's direction of travel and by the time depth/distance calculations have enough information a collision is unavoidable.

  • 1995 SC I'll hold out for the VW Tassos
  • Gsc65794753 Volvo parts were rediculously expensive. That's what I remember.
  • Creekrat85 The right to work on your own stuff shall not be abridged. It's common sense. It's unAmerican to be authoritarian. A corporate authoritarian? Isn't that fascism? If the government colludes with a corporate authoritarian to restrict owner's manuals or not to be allowed to show how to make simple repairs or you cannot buy the parts yourself? That's what is wrong. It's benign neglect of the government and it is at the heart of Boeing and their problems, so they let Elon do more of the same over at Tesla ?... The analogy is poor. None of us passengers are going for a wing walk to repair something on a 737 Max. Using John Deere and the farm equipment for the right to work on your own stuff is the better analogy .... Just say no to the corporate authoritarian fascists, wherever they roam...
  • Arthur Dailey Can the auto-shut off feature be disengaged? If not that would be a deal breaker for me. I greatly dislike that feature/function on any vehicle.
  • 3-On-The-Tree I agree those men shouldn’t be enshrined or celebrated. Even my Japanese mother agrees, those men who did those atrocities should’ve been punished. Her father was in the Japanese Imperial Navy, he didn’t do those things. We had guys in Iraq do criminal activities and murder and they were punished. I was in Iraq I didn’t do that. My dad was in Vietnam, you going to judge him from the My Lai massacre? Group punishment as a whole from the deeds of others is wrong.