Tesla quietly spent $2 million on a technology Elon Musk previously trashed as a 'fool's errand'

Elon Musk next to Luminar car
Elon Musk previously referred to lidar technology as a "fool's errand."Arturo Holmes/Ethan Miller/Getty
  • Tesla spent around $2 million on lidar tech, according to a quarterly earnings report from Luminar.

  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly slammed lidar and referred to it as a "fool's errand."

  • It's unclear how Tesla is using lidar, but in 2021 the EV giant signed a contract with Luminar.

Tesla spent around $2 million on lidar, a technology used in EVs that Elon Musk has previously referred to as a "fool's errand" and that any carmakers relying on it are "doomed."

But according to a recent earnings report from lidar manufacturer Luminar, Tesla was its largest customer last quarter and "comprised more than 10%" of its revenue during the period.


That's about $2 million, given that Luminar's reported quarterly revenue was $21 million. Luminar did not respond to a request for comment.

Lidar stands for light detection and ranging, and it uses light pulses to measure distance and create a 3D image of its surroundings. It's often used in EVs, specifically in self-driving and Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems, to help detect a vehicle's surroundings.

Tesla's purchase of the technology is notable considering the CEO has repeatedly slammed lidar in favor of cameras.

"It's like having a whole bunch of expensive appendices," Musk said at Tesla's "Autonomy Day" event in 2019. "Like one appendix is bad, well how about a whole bunch of them? That's ridiculous. You'll see."

"Humans drive with eyes & biological neural nets, so makes sense that cameras & silicon neural nets are only way to achieve generalized solution to self-driving," Musk said in an October 2021 tweet.

Musk most recently reiterated his stance on lidar during Tesla's quarterly earnings call. The CEO said Tesla EVs only rely on camera-based vision systems for driver-assist features.

"No lidars, no radars, ultrasonic. Nothing," Musk said.

Musk has also said that he doesn't hate lidar, he just opposes its use in electric vehicles. The Tesla CEO said he personally ran a project at SpaceX to create lidar sensors to help navigation.

For now, it's unclear how Tesla is using the technology, or if it will eventually make its way back into the company's vehicles.

In 2021, a photo of a Tesla Model Y with lidar sensors affixed to its roof circulated around the internet. That same year, Tesla reportedly entered a partnership with Luminar for testing and development.

Tesla has autonomous testing units in a number of cities around the country as it seeks to refine its Full-Self-Driving system.

The company's self-driving Autopilot feature has also caught the eye of regulators in the past. Last year, Tesla recalled over 2 million vehicles after regulators said its Autopilot system didn't protect enough against drivers misusing it.

Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it was looking into whether the recall had enough of an impact after a fatal crash involved a driver who said he was using autopilot.

The US Department of Justice has also reportedly been investigating Tesla since 2022 over potential wire and securities fraud related to Elon Musk's past comments about Autopilot and its abilities.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

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