Tesla is creating San Francisco in a simulation to help train Autopilot/FSD

By Kevin Armstrong
Tesla is creating San Francisco in a simulation to help train Autopilot
Tesla is creating San Francisco in a simulation to help train Autopilot
Tesla

Tesla may be ramping up how it uses simulation to train its Autopilot system. A report by Electrek asserts that it has sources claiming that the company is concentrating on a reproduction of San Francisco. The article includes an image of the recreation and states that Tesla is working with Real Engine on its simulation.

According to Electrek, the image below is part of Tesla's simulation of San Francisco.

An image of Tesla's San Francisco simulation that was obtained by Electrek
An image of Tesla's San Francisco simulation that was obtained by Electrek
Electrek

Tesla gave the world a look at how it uses simulation to advance the Autopilot program during the first AI Day in August of 2021 (recap).

AI Day

At the first AI Day Tesla talked about the use of using simulations to help train Autopilot. The video below is cued up to where they discuss a simulation.

Ashok Elluswamy, the Director of the Autopilot Program, showed a video that, at first glance, looked real other than an appearance by a Cybertruck. “I may say so myself. It looks very pretty,” said Elluswamy. He explained that the company is investing heavily in using simulation. “It helps when data is difficult to source. As large as our fleet is (FSD Beta users), it can still be hard to get some crazy scenes,” the director explained while showing a rendering of two people and a dog running in the middle of a busy highway. “This is a rare scene, but it can happen, and Autopilot still needs to handle it when it happens,” said Elluswamy.

It appears that Tesla has jumped on Fortnite’s Battle Bus by teaming up with Epic Games and its development platform — Unreal Engine. Fortnite is one of the most popular games of all time, with 80 million subscribers and 4 million daily users, and it was created with Unreal Engine. Epic flexed its creative muscles when it gathered experts to create The Matrix Awakens: An Unreal Engine 5 Experience. The goal was to “blur the boundaries between cinematic and game, inviting us to ask — what is real?” The project spotlight on Unreal Engine shows just how incredibly realistic a simulation can be.

After Elluswamy explained that the company is investing in simulation, it makes sense that Tesla would be hiring several positions with simulation in the job description. Electrek pointed out one posting for Autopilot Rendering Engineer. The posting states the successful candidate “will contribute to the development of Autopilot simulation by enabling and supporting the creation of photo-realistic 3D scenes that can accurately model the driving experience in a wide range of locales and conditions.” Tesla prefers the candidates have experience working with Unreal Engine.

While not new, this does show that Tesla is doubling down on efforts to improve Autopilot. It has recently rolled out Full Self Driving to 60,000 more users, bringing the FSD Beta program to 160,000 in North America.

We can only guess how many thousands of simulations the Autopilot team is conducting to add to the data the Beta testers are collecting. It seems unlikely that Tesla has only created the City by the Bay in its simulations. Perhaps Elluswamy will show more renderings at the second AI Day on September 30th.

Tesla Vehicles Spotted With LiDAR: What Do They Use It For?

By Karan Singh
Not a Tesla App

Tesla recently hit the news for purchasing approximately $2M in LiDAR sensors from Luminar, one of Tesla’s long-term suppliers. You’ve probably seen photos of Tesla’s Semi and various Tesla models, including the Model 3 and Model Y sporting LIDAR equipment on the roof. These cars drive around with manufacturer plates scanning streets and highways.

However, many people confuse Tesla’s purpose in purchasing LiDAR equipment with using it for FSD versus testing. So, let’s look at what LiDAR is, and why Tesla uses it on its Fleet Validation Vehicles.

What is LiDAR?

LiDAR stands for Light Detecting and Ranging – essentially using lasers to measure distances. A laser pulse is sent out, and the time it takes to return is measured – providing extremely accurate distance measurements.

Some companies working on self-driving vehicles, including Waymo and BYD, use LiDAR as part of their self-driving suites, but Tesla is one of the few stand-outs that does not. Even Rimac’s “Verne” Robotaxi – which uses self-driving technology from Mobileye, also uses LiDAR.

While LiDAR can produce extremely accurate and high-quality 3D environments, it comes with its downsides as well. Not only is LiDAR costly and requires large gear strapped to a vehicle, but it also can not be used in bad weather and can have interference issues if there are other strong light sources present.

Why Does Tesla Use LiDAR?

A LiDAR rig mounted on a Tesla Semi for testing FSD.
A LiDAR rig mounted on a Tesla Semi for testing FSD.
Not a Tesla App

At Autonomy Day in 2019, Elon Musk mentioned that LiDAR isn’t the solution for self-driving cars – it's just a crutch. Thus, Tesla hasn’t used LiDAR for any production self-driving software.

Instead, Tesla uses it exactly how it's described – they use it to gather ground-truth data. This data is then used to feed Tesla’s Full Self Driving system – which helps validate its vision-only system's accuracy. LiDAR provides very accurate measurements to help ensure that FSD’s perception of space is accurate – and is only used by Tesla to ensure that its AI technology which is the brains of FSD is capable of accurately interpreting depth from just visual data.

Tesla’s vision-only system has been seen to be extremely accurate, with Vision-only Autopark being able to park in even narrower and tighter spaces faster than the previous version that relied on ultrasonic sensors.

We’ll likely continue to see Tesla purchase LiDAR systems, as well as use them for validation well into the future.

Tesla's Upcoming Robotaxi Event in August Delayed, According to Bloomberg

By Karan Singh
Sugar Design

In a report from Bloomberg, it is claimed that Tesla will be delaying its much-anticipated 8/8 Robotaxi event by two months to October 2024.

While sources other than Bloomberg haven't confirmed this report, Bloomberg has a positive track record of reporting on financial decisions. We’ll be sure to update the article if there is confirmation on X from Elon Musk or another Tesla senior official.

Tesla’s stock has dropped nearly 8.5% over the day, ending back-to-back gains over the last two weeks. It closed yesterday at $ 241 after hitting a peak of $270 earlier in the day before the news broke.

Why the Delay?

The delay – of approximately two months – has been communicated internally, but not publicly announced just yet. Bloomberg goes on to mention that the design team was told to rework certain elements of the Cybercab, necessitating the delay.

If Bloomberg’s report is correct, it sounds like Tesla’s unveil event will be largely focused on showing off the vehicle, instead of demoing how it will work. Of course, it could still be both, but given past events, Tesla has always shown off the vehicle years before it hits production.

Rimac recently showed off their version of robotaxi vehicle named Verne, and surprisingly, it could almost pass for Tesla’s own robotaxi. A lot of design cues in Rimac’s version are elements we have already seen or expect to see in Tesla’s autonomous taxi.

A recent Tesla patent revealed that Tesla is incorporating a sanitation system into their robotaxi that will be responsible for analyzing and cleaning the vehicle’s interior, although the delay itself is likely tied more to a physical feature rather than software.

Another element we know almost nothing about is how Tesla plans to charge these robotic taxis. Will they rely on the existing charge port and adapt a solution like the robotic charging arm (video below) we saw almost eight years ago, or will wireless charging or a dock finally become realized?

While the delay for Tesla’s event appears to be related to the vehicle’s design itself and not further development of FSD, Tesla is wasting no time in getting FSD working for the upcoming vehicle. Model 3 vehicles have already been spotted with camera locations that resemble a robotaxi.

Is the Delay Accurate?

We expect that this delay might actually be true – Elon Musk usually takes to X within hours of such news breaking if it's false to refute it and hasn’t done so yet.

Tesla has delayed several of their events in the past, and a delay of a couple of months seems plausible. We should hear from Musk himself soon on whether this report is accurate.

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