Elon Musk did not mince his words when he was asked about LiDAR during Tesla’s recently-held Autonomy Day, an event that featured a deep dive into the company’s full self-driving strategies and initiatives. Ever the bold CEO, Musk noted that LiDAR is unnecessary for vehicles to achieve autonomous driving capabilities.
“LiDAR is a fool’s errand, and anyone who relies on LiDAR is doomed. It’s like having expensive appendices. You’ll see,” Musk said.
Sr. Director of AI Andrej Karpathy elaborated on Elon Musk’s point during his presentation on Tesla’s neural network, stating that Tesla Vision and artificial intelligence are more than enough to perform actions that LiDAR can do. Describing his point, Karpathy lightly joked that the attendees of the event only used their biological neural networks to get to Autonomy Day’s venue without any issues.
“You all used your own neural network in your brains to get here. You didn’t shoot lasers from your eyes to drive,” Karpathy lightly said.
LiDAR is used primarily by most key players in the autonomous driving market. Waymo and GM Cruise, the top two companies pursuing the technology according to research firm Navigant (the firm also lists Tesla as the second-worst company in terms of full self-driving), rely heavily on LiDAR for their autonomous vehicles’ operations. The technology is seeing a lot of support as well, with a Reuters analysis pointing to more than $1 billion in corporate and private investment being plowed into some 50 LiDAR startups in the past three years.
Nevertheless, Tesla is not the only company that is opting out of LiDAR for autonomous driving. Early this month, full self-driving startup Wayve showcased an impressive autonomous driving demonstration using a modified Renault Twizy. Similar to Tesla, Wayve accomplished its feat without using LiDAR. In a statement to Engadget, the self-driving startup noted that its full self-driving technology was made possible by using cameras and teaching AI to drive like a human being.
It should be noted that while Elon Musk has not minced words when it comes to his opinions about LiDAR, he is not completely against the technology. Musk described how SpaceX’s Dragon capsule uses LiDAR because it makes sense in that scenario. But when it comes to everyday driving, Musk was clear on his stance, even predicting that Tesla’s competitors in the full self-driving field will likely abandon LiDAR in due time. “They’re gonna dump LiDAR, mark my words. That’s my prediction. LiDAR in cars is stupid,” Musk said.
Tesla is yet to roll out the full capabilities of its Full Self-Driving suite to its fleet, though Musk has stated that he expects the system to be “feature complete” by the end of the year. Industry leaders such as Waymo are pretty much on the same boat, with most of the companies’ autonomous vehicles still requiring safety drivers as they operate in tightly geofenced areas. Considering Musk’s timeline for the rollout of Tesla’s full self-driving features, and taking into account the potential delays on its rollout, there is a good chance that the LiDAR debate might not be settled for some time to come.