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Tesla phases out radar sensors, shifts to camera-based autopilot

Tesla updated its website today to announce that Model 3 and Model Y cars built for North America and shipping this month will no longer be equipped with radar.

On Tesla’s earnings call last month, Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk called radar one of the last “crutches” the electric vehicle maker wants to do away with in its pursuit of full autonomy, which has proven elusive so far. Musk has been famously opposed to lidar technology, which uses pulses of laser light to detect objects. He’s since soured on radar, which uses radio waves to do the same thing. Tesla’s sensor suite previously relied on radar as well as eight cameras.

“We are continuing the transition to Tesla Vision, our camera-based Autopilot system,” says the company’s website. “Beginning with deliveries in May 2021, Model 3 and Model Y vehicles built for the North American market will no longer be equipped with radar. Instead, these will be the first Tesla vehicles to rely on camera vision and neural net processing to deliver Autopilot, Full-Self Driving and certain active safety features.”

The move comes as Tesla’s driver-assistance feature known as Autopilot appears to be under growing regulatory scrutiny in the U.S. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, as well as the National Transportation Safety Board, launched investigations into a fatal and fiery Texas crash that killed two men in April. A preliminary report by the NTSB said the Tesla owner was initially driving the car.

On May 5, a Tesla Model 3 crashed into an overturned tractor trailer at 2:35 a.m. in Fontana, in southern California, and the driver was killed. NHTSA as well as the California Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team are still investigating that crash.

“To clarify, there has not been a final determination made as to what driving mode the Tesla was in or if it was a contributing factor to the crash,” the CHP said in a statement May 14.

While Musk has said for several years he believes Tesla is on the verge of delivering Level 5 autonomy — meaning its cars won’t require human intervention — drivers have needed to keep their hands on the wheel when using Autopilot. Tesla raised more than $2 billion two years ago after Musk made several predictions about robotaxis that didn’t materialize. Many Tesla customers who have Autopilot say that the features get better over time as the company rolls out new software updates.

Late Tuesday, Musk tweeted about the latest changes and updates to come.

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