Tesla engineers were “horrified” – now Elon Musk is probably allowing important components again
Tesla boss Elon Musk was convinced for a long time that his cars could do without radar sensors and opted for a purely visual system for detecting obstacles. Due to countless problems with this decision, the about-face is now in the offing.
Externally, the Tesla models have hardly changed for years. As far as equipment is concerned, the automaker is following an opaque zigzag course. When the company installed the autopilot for the first time in 2015, the cars rolled off the assembly line with cameras, radar and ultrasonic sensors. For safety reasons, Tesla changed suppliers a year later and relied on its own hardware. All components were still part of the standard equipment of the vehicles.
Tesla cameras don’t seem to be enough after all
That all changed in early 2021: within two years, Tesla removed all radar and ultrasonic sensors, hinting that cameras could single-handedly master obstacle detection. As the “Handelsblatt“reported, that was obviously not the last word.
It is said that Tesla has submitted documents to the US regulator Federal Communications Commission (FCC) indicating that radar systems are making a comeback in cars like the Tesla Model S – in a self-developed variant.
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It is not known why Tesla is now apparently rethinking. For a long time, Elon Musk was very convinced that cameras were sufficient. Loud “Electrek“, whose report refers to “SFGate”, Tesla engineers had tried in vain to convince him otherwise.
Accordingly, some were so “appalled” that they were desperately looking for a way to talk Musk out of his decision. It was known that “Teslas would be prone to basic perceptual errors if the cameras were obscured by raindrops or even bright sunlight.”
There was even the question of whether the increased number of accidents could be related to the changes to the vehicles, writes “SFGate”. But instead of working flat out, Musk even brought a handful of Tesla engineers to Tesla for other work, including Ashok Elluswamy, head of the software department that takes care of the so-called autopilot.
A reporter from the New York Times Magazine, who summarized his experiences in a long report, also noticed a deterioration in the autonomous driving performance. His conclusion: In fact, Teslas sometimes make blatant mistakes in very clear traffic situations. He himself almost had an accident.
This coincides with the many reports that speak of unexpected reactions from vehicles with an active assistance system. Two behaviors in particular stand out: Teslas repeatedly crash into parked US rescue vehicles, often fire engines, with active emergency lighting. In early March, a Tesla driver died from it, like “CNBC” reported.
There is also a phenomenon called “ghost braking” – the “ghost brake”. Driving Teslas activate the brakes suddenly and abruptly, sometimes at high speeds. This is said to be due to misinterpreted data from the camera, for example when a person is shown on a truck tarpaulin and the car recognizes a pedestrian. But there are also videos that show such braking without any external influence.
This type of accidents has happened so frequently in recent months that several investigations are being conducted at the top level. The civilian United States Highway and Vehicle Safety Administration NHTSA reported most recently on January 9, 2023 that the investigations into accidents and problems related to Tesla’s technology are “in full swing” and that “massive resources are being invested”. However, there is no time when the investigations started in August 2021 will come to a conclusion.
However, the omission of the sensors has quite different effects: for several months, new vehicles have not been equipped with a parking aid. Because Tesla removed the sensors before a software-based solution for the camera systems was found. Only now should a corresponding update be ready, as drivers on “Reddit” write.
At least, one would think, but the missing components will probably become a problem again in the future. In the “Handelsblatt” Tesla expert Sam Abuelsamid believes that once the new hardware is ready, it is not intended for retrofitting. He explains: “The vehicles sold so far will not perform nearly as well on autopilot as those with the new hardware . However, Musk has told all buyers since 2016 that they have all the necessary hardware for Level 5 autonomous driving. Tesla has reached a real dead end.”
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