Tesla registers new high-res radar. Could Tesla be changing its position on radar and LiDAR?

By Gabe Rodriguez Morrison
A Tesla vehicle equipped with LiDAR sensors
A Tesla vehicle equipped with LiDAR sensors
@ManuelRToronto/Twitter

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
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.

Cameras are limited to 2D data combined with computer vision algorithms to interpret 3D depth. The downside to this approach is that it requires a computational process versus having precise 3D depth measurement from a LiDAR sensor.

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
Levels of driving automation
Synopsys

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.

Tesla to reward Powerwall customers in California who opt-in to virtual power plant program

By Lennon Cihak
Tesla to launch new virtual power plant program
Tesla to launch new virtual power plant program

Tesla’s new partnership with gas and electric company PG&E in California will give Powerwall owners the opportunity to earn money while giving energy back to the grid.

The virtual power plant (VPP) is a connection of distributed energy storage systems that work in tandem to give energy back to the grid to avoid dirty and costly peaker power plants. Essentially, when the grid is being strained, then the VPP can kick in and draw power from Powerwall owners enrolled in the program, and other distributed energy storage system owners, to use clean energy and avoid brownouts across the state.

Here are some of the advantages with this new VPP with PG&E:

Stabilize California’s Grid: The extra capacity your Powerwall provides could help avoid or reduce blackouts in a severe emergency. This way, Powerwall can keep the lights on for both you and your community.

Clean the Grid: Tesla will dispatch your Powerwall when the grid is in critical need of additional power. That is when the least efficient generators would typically come online.

Unite as a Tesla Community: Team up with other Powerwall owners who are accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy and help form the largest distributed battery in the world - potentially over 50,000 Powerwalls. As part of the VPP, your Powerwall will have an outsized positive impact on the grid over traditional demand response programs.

Maintain Your Energy Security: Powerwall will discharge during VPP events but won’t discharge below your Backup Reserve. Adjust your Backup Reserve to control your contribution while maintaining backup energy for outages.

Earn Compensation: Through the ELRP pilot, you will receive $2 for every additional kWh your Powerwall provides during an event. You don’t have to change your energy usage behavior to participate.

In 2021, Tesla piloted a test VPP program in California for Powerwall owners to voluntarily opt-in without compensation. The test VPP program would then pull energy from the Powerwalls when the grids needed it.

“Become a part of the largest distributed battery in the world and help keep California’s energy clean and reliable,” reads a statement from Tesla. “Opt-in to the Tesla Virtual Power Plant (VPP) with PG&E and your Powerwall will be dispatched when the grid needs emergency support. Through the Emergency Load Reduction Program (ELRP) pilot, you will receive $2 for every additional kWh your Powerwall delivers during an event. Adjust your Backup Reserve to set your contribution, while maintaining backup energy for outages.”

With Tesla and PG&E’s new VPP program owners will receive $2/kWh, which is quite significant. For comparison, where I live in Southern California, Tesla charges $0.58/kWh for supercharging during peak hours.

According to Electrek, “they could earn anywhere from $10 to $60 per event or more for bigger systems.” 

Tesla stated that they have roughly 50,000 Powerwalls that may be eligible for this new program.

Tesla Cybertruck design finalized; to enter production mid-2023: Elon Musk [Video]

By Gabe Rodriguez Morrison
Tesla Cybertruck
ksbw.com

In an interview with Tesla Owners Silicon Valley, Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed that the Cybertruck design has now been finalized. Musk didn’t get into details about the design, but gave a rough timeline for production of the Cybertruck.

With the design now "locked", he estimates production will begin “the middle of next year, roughly 12-months’ish” which would put the first Cybertruck deliveries in the second half of 2023.

Musk did not say when the final design will be revealed, but recent sightings of the alpha builds give us many hints as to what to expect.

When discussing the Cybertruck design Elon said they “got too carried with the…,” before pausing, hinting that they have added a number of new features not included on the original prototype.

While it's not clear what additional features Elon was about to mention, we have an idea of what is to come.

One of the most controversial additions has been the side mirrors, which are required by law, although Musk has said that they will be easily removable by owners.

Another controversial feature of the Cybertruck is the windshield wiper. While we have only seen the large single wiper, Musk did say that the final design would be different than what has been seen on recent builds.

Tesla did patent a laser beam windshield wiper, but we'll likely see something more traditional on the Cybertruck.

Another feature we could see on the final build are doors with no handles. At the Cyber Rodeo, Elon opened the Cybertruck door by pushing a button on the side of the truck. The doors also seemingly open and lock depending on proximity to the vehicle.

You can watch the full interview below.

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