Tesla registered a new high resolution radar unit with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Tesla's intended use for these radar units is unknown, but it appears they are intended for imaging, similar to how LiDAR uses lasers to map surroundings.
While Tesla's FSD software has used radar in the past, Elon Musk has a rather unfavorable stance on LiDAR. For the purposes of autonomous driving, Musk sees LiDARs as a "fool's errand." Yet, people have been spotting Tesla prototypes with LiDAR sensors since last year.
Tesla files a patent for a high-res radar sensor
The latest instance of Tesla using LiDAR comes from Twitter user @ManuelRToronto who spotted a LiDAR-mounted Tesla in downtown Toronto, only a few weeks after the release of FSD Beta in Canada.
He took a video of the LiDAR-mounted Model Y with manufacturer license plates from California.
There has been no official announcement from Tesla about these LiDAR-mounted vehicles, but it is safe to assume that Tesla will not use LiDAR on any production vehicles.
Tesla is likely using LiDAR to help train their machine learning algorithms, using it as the ground truth when checking for accuracy. Unlike cameras, LiDAR captures extremely accurate 3D depth measurements.
LiDAR could be used to train these algorithms to accurately interpret depth by relying on precise, non-interpretive LiDAR sensors.
However, LiDAR sensors are expensive; the benefit of relying solely on cameras is that it makes Teslas much more affordable.
LiDAR can't be the only sensor used in a vehicle since it can only build a wireframe 3D environment. Without cameras it wouldn't be able to read traffic signs, traffic lights or anything that doesn't have depth.
Vehicles with LiDAR also rely on camera data and fuse the two outputs of the two sensors together to build a virtual representation of the real world.
Musk believes that self-driving cars should navigate the world in the same manner as human drivers. Since humans use their eyes and brain to navigate three-dimensional space, cars with cameras and enough computational power should be able to achieve the same thing.
"Humans drive with eyes and biological neural nets, so it makes sense that cameras and silicon neural nets are the only way to achieve a generalized solution to self-driving, " says Elon Musk.
While other self-driving initiatives like Google's Waymo have taken a LiDAR approach, Tesla is outpacing the competition using vision-only, machine learning and the network effect of over 100,000 vehicles in the FSD Beta program.
Tesla's vision-only approach has become smart enough that adding radar data gives the system more information than it needs and disorients the FSD software.
LiDAR and radar may be helpful in training the FSD software, but Tesla wants to avoid using multiple sensors with potentially conflicting perceptions that would overwhelm the system.
With Tesla's recent patent of a high resolution radar, and the recent reported use of LiDAR, it is possible that Tesla's Robotaxi will employ radar and/or LiDAR in order to reach full automation.
Levels of driving automation
Tesla's FSD software could eventually be segmented into consumer and commercial self-driving vehicles with consumer vehicles reaching conditional autonomy (L2/L3) using vision-only and commercial vehicles reaching full autonomy (L4/L5) with the help of radar or potentially even LiDAR sensors.
Commercial robotaxis could even be multi-sensor (cameras, radar, LiDAR), costing much more, while consumer self-driving vehicles would be vision only and more affordable.
Cybertruck deliveries will start next year, but if you can't wait that long, you may want to head for Night City. Cyberpunk 2077 has teased that the highly anticipated vehicle in the real world may appear in the popular video game. But, if that's not enough, Elon Musk announced another exciting and unique feature for the futuristic-looking truck - it will be waterproof.
Let's start with the floating Cybertruck, which should not be a shock to anyone following the Tesla CEO. He bought the Lotus Esprit that James Bond used to jump off a pier and transform into a submarine in The Spy Who Loved Me. He purchased the movie prop for just under $1 million in 2013 and told USA Today, "I was disappointed to learn that it can't actually transform. What I'm going to do is upgrade it with a Tesla electric powertrain and try to make it transform for real."
In 2016 he tweeted that the Model S "floats well enough to be a boat," but he did not recommend trying it. Now he has claimed the Cybertruck could be used as a boat — briefly. Musk tweeted: Cybertruck will be waterproof enough to serve briefly as a boat, so it can cross rivers, lakes & even seas that aren't too choppy.
Cybertruck may appear in Cyberpunk 2077 game
In a later tweet, he gave some idea of the distance he has in mind: Needs be able to get from Starbase to South Padre Island, which requires crossing the channel.
Twitter user @Erdayastronaut shed some light on why Musk would be singling out that area and distance. The tweet reads: "One of SpaceX's biggest problems is attracting talent to work at Starbase, which is extremely remote. South Padre is an awesome place to live, but it's almost an hour drive to Starbase despite being only 5 miles from Starbase because of the shipping channel." A quick check of Google Maps demonstrates what the user is describing.
South Padre is only five minutes from Starbase if you cross the channel
Musk's tweet also caught the attention of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. Officials there seem to be a little concerned about the wording. The official account tweeted: Our derelict vessel crews are begging you to understand that anything that "serves briefly as a boat" should not be used as a boat.
CD Projekt RED also noticed Musk's tweet, and the makers of Cyberpunk used the opportunity to show two concepts of the Cybertruck as it would appear in Night City. Musk and Cyberpunk have had an ongoing relationship for a few years. Most recently, he demonstrated the power of the onboard computer's gaming system by playing Cyberpunk in a Tesla. However, CD Projekt RED did not mention if the Cybertruck in Cyberpunk would float.
Cyberpunk 2077 will be playable in the new Model S
Tesla now mentions 'Park Seek' or what we know as reverse summon on its website
Tesla's team of Autopilot engineers is validating significant advancements to Full Self Driving Beta, including parking lot improvements. While Smart Summon and Reverse Summon were not specifically mentioned during the 3.5-hour AI Day 2022 event, parking lots were discussed, and Elon Musk gave a timeline of when enhancements are expected.
Reverse Summon or 'Park Seek' as Tesla appears to be calling it, is the opposite of Smart Summon. Whereas Smart Summon drives to you from a parking spot, users who activate Reverse Summon would have their Tesla drop them off at a location, perhaps closest to the entrance of a mall, and then find a parking spot. This feature was described by Musk on July 1, 2020, when he gave it a two to a four-month timeline.
Ashok Elluswamy, Tesla’s director of the Autopilot program, started the FSD portion of AI Day, saying, “FSD beta software is quite capable of driving the car. It should be able to navigate from parking lot to parking lot, city street driving, stopping for traffic lights and stops signs, negotiating with objects at intersections, making turns and so on.”
Several team members described how FSD has advanced and soon will be an integrated stack, meaning one code base that includes everything the program needs to navigate the car in a parking lot or on a busy highway. Musk is currently using this new stack, “it works quite well for me, but we need to validate it in all kinds of weather, like heavy rain, snow, dust and make sure it is working better than the production stack across a wide range of environments.”
Paril Jain, the Manager of Autopilot Motion Planning, expanded on what else will be included in the integrated stack, “we do expect to also include the parking lot stack as a part of the FSD stack before the end of this year. So, that will basically bring us to you sitting in the car in the parking lot and drive till the end of the parking lot, at a parking spot, before the end of this year.”
It has been previously reported that Reverse Summon would have three different modes to find parking spots that the owner prefers. The methods would include closest to the entrance, nearby a cart return, and the end of the parking lot for those who like to avoid tight spots that cause door dings. Musk said that the integrated stack is on track for release before the end of the year and maybe as early as November.
Tesla has also updated it's website to reflect this news, although no timeframe is given. The Autopilot section of Tesla's site now has a section titled "To your Destination." The description reads "When you arrive at your destination, simply step out at the entrance and your car will enter park seek mode, automatically search for a spot and park itself. A tap on your phone summons it back to you."
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