In about two weeks’ time, Tesla will release the FSD beta v9, which, as has been recently planned, will feature a “pure vision” architecture, meaning Teslas will no longer rely on radar assistance, but rather on camera-produced images, which the vehicles then analyze and use to assist driving.
Tesla’s full-fledged effort at achieving “pure vision”-based self-driving this year represents a long sought-after goal of the company and also the greatest differentiator between Tesla’s solutions and other self-driving software.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced just last month that Models 3/Y produced starting in May 2021 will no longer feature radars. At the same time, Tesla has also been integrating “pure vision” driving assistance features across its entire range of vehicles.
Tesla’s Autopilot isn’t strictly a self-driving solution as it is only an ADAS solution between L2 and L3. However, in the past few years, Tesla’s excellent software design, combined with camera and radar functionalities, meant that Tesla’s Autopilot has been beloved and trusted as a solution among car owners. One may justifiably call it earth’s greatest L2 self-driving technology.
However, Musk believes that, through sight and brains alone, human beings are able to process the various complex information presented while driving as well as perform correct judgments (most of the time). Theoretically, this means that, if an AI is strong enough and its image processing fast enough, computers are capable of doing the same thing.
Although we don’t know what sort of AI breakthroughs Musk achieved within the past year, he and his team believe that the program is mature enough and deem it close to the human eye and brain in terms of processing power, judging by Tesla’s results.
▲Tesla emphasizes that its pure vision yields capabilities that can almost rival those provided by radar-based solutions
On June 6, Musk further announced that Tesla will release a new version of its FSD (full self-driving) beta software, as previously mentioned. This V9 version will operate based on a “pure vision” architecture, which can also be called “Tesla Vision”.
“I think with the elimination of radar, we’re finally getting rid of one of the last crutches,” according to Musk. “Radar was really — it was making up for some of the shortfalls of vision, but this is not good. You actually just need vision to work.”
The FSD beta provides more functionalities than does Autopilot. For instance, the Autopilot can autonomously direct the car onto interchanges, drive on urban streets (while the driver’s hands are the wheel), and brings the car to the driver in parking lots. Tesla believes that all these functions are equally achievable with pure vision solutions.
Since Tesla Vision has just arrived on the scene, its performance cannot be fairly judged yet. Many testing authorities such as Consumer Report and NHTSA believe that removing the radar is hugely detrimental for automotive safety. Therefore, prior to retesting newer Tesla models, these organizations have removed their original scores.
On the other hand, many netizens and YouTubers alike are reporting both positive and negative results in their tests of the latest Tesla software. Their primary criticism is that, compared to the radar-based version, the new Tesla Vision limits the vehicle’s max speed once Autopilot is engaged. For instance, the Model Y cannot exceed 75 mph (about 120 km/h).
With that said, the pure vision-equipped Tesla isn’t without its benefits too. Extensive driving tests reveal that the computer has been driving more “confidently”, with more accurate actions and less intermittent stops. At the same time, however, most car owners are puzzled by the fact that, as if to make up for the lack of the radar, the new Model Y’s windshield wipers are finally improved. The new windshield wiper nozzles can cover more windshield area, as opposed to leaving various dead spots.
At the same time, minor upgrades have been done to the car window, rearview mirror, and taillights. These upgrades prove that the removal of the radar was not done by Tesla out of a desire to save costs. However, other than news about the new cars, perhaps the more pertinent question is whether good performance by Tesla Vision will allow Tesla to reach its goal of L5 autonomous driving by the end of this year.