Tesla Model Y and Model 3 vehicles bound for North American customers are being built without radar, fulfilling a desire by CEO Elon Musk to only use cameras combined with machine learning to support its advanced driver assistance system and other active safety features.
Like many of Tesla's moves, the decision to stop using the sensor runs counter to the industry standard. For now, the radar-less cars will only be sold in North America. Tesla didn't state when or if it might remove the radar sensor in vehicles built for Chinese and European customers. Automakers typically use a combination of radar and cameras — and even lidar — to provide the sensing required to deliver advanced driver assistance system features like adaptive cruise control, which matches the speed of a car to surrounding traffic, as well as lane keeping and automatic lane changes.
Musk has touted the potential of its branded "Tesla Vision" system, which only uses cameras and so-called neural net processing to detect and understand what is happening in the environment surrounding the vehicle and then respond appropriately. Neural nets are a form of machine learning that work similarly to how humans learn. It is a sophisticated form of artificial intelligence algorithm that allows a computer to learn by using a series of connected networks to identify patterns in data. Many companies developing self-driving tech use deep neural networks to handle specific problems. But they wall off the deep nets and use rules-based algorithms to tie into the broader system.
The company detailed the transition away from radar in an update on its website, noting that the switch started this month. This camera-plus-machine learning (specifically neural net processing) approach has been dubbed Tesla Vision and will be used in its standard Autopilot advanced driver assistance system as well as in its $10,000 upgraded feature that has been branded Full Self-Driving or FSD. Tesla vehicles are not self-driving and require a human driver to remain engaged.
Tesla vehicles that are delivered without radar will initially limit Autopilot, including the lane-keeping feature known as Autosteer. For a short period of time, Autosteer will be limited to a maximum speed of 75 mph and a longer minimum following distance. The system's emergency lane departure avoidance feature and smart summon, which allows the driver to summon its vehicle in a parking lot, may be disabled at delivery, Tesla said.
The company plans to restore these features through wireless software updates in the coming weeks. Tesla didn't provide a specific timeline. All other available Autopilot and Full Self-Driving features will be active at delivery, depending on order configuration, the company said.
Meanwhile, new Model S and Model X vehicles as well as every model built for markets outside of North America, will continue to be equipped with radar and will have radar-supported Autopilot functionality.
"Model 3 and Model Y are our higher volume vehicles," Tesla noted in its frequently asked questions section. "Transitioning them to Tesla Vision first allows us to analyze a large volume of real-world data in a short amount of time, which ultimately speeds up the roll-out of features based on Tesla Vision."