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Tesla Again Spurns Lidar, Betting Instead On Radar

Musk says radar alone can produce a lidar-like “point cloud” to help Autopilot navigate

1 min read
A tweet from Elon Musk about Tesla radar technology
Image: Twitter

Elon Musk says today’s Tesla cars can improve their self-driving ability with its existing radar system by generatingthe kind of point cloud you’d normally expect only from lidar. (Lidar’s the laser sensing system used in the trademark, roof-mounted beacons in Google cars.)

In messages on his Twitter feed, Musk explained that radar could create in effect a stereoscopic, 3D map by making repeated measurements as the car moves, each time getting a slightly different point of view. Lidar achieves this effect by scanning the laser beacon.

Many major car companies have started working with lidar, in part because the technology is getting less expensive. But although Telsa was recently reported to be experimenting with lidar, the company remains a notable holdout.

Today’s Tesla cars could realize “certainly moderate and maybe big advances w no incremental hardware,” Musk said in another Tweet.

Lidar offers greater precision than radar, but it can’t see nearly as well through rain, snow, and fog. It’s also very conspicuous, though future setups will likely eschew the roof tower for less obtrusive packages that can be hidden in the grille and salted around the corners of the car.

Most big car makers believe that fortrue self-driving capability many different and complementary sensors will be needed. Each one would serve as backup,covering the blind spots of all the others.

Of course, the most capable backup is the human being behind the wheel—provided that the human rivets his attention to the road. But,as the recent fatal accident of a Tesla Model S has demonstrated, a human freed from moment-to-moment driving chores may be not much backup at all.

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images
Green

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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