Elon Musk has said that LIDAR is a ‘crutch’ and affirmed that Tesla will not be planning to use the system going forward.
LIDAR, which stands for ‘light detection and ranging’, helps measure distance to a target by illuminating the target with pulsed laser light, and measuring the reflected pulses. While other companies are using the technology – it is a part of the alleged claims in the current Uber versus Waymo court case, for instance – Tesla will continue to only use cameras, radar, and ultrasonic sensors to create autonomous vehicles.
Musk was responding to an analyst question on an earnings call, asking whether competitors are missing anything in their software stack that enabled Tesla to not use LIDAR, and whether regulation would come into place regarding use of the technology.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that the road system is geared towards passive optical [image recognition],” said Musk, as transcribed by Seeking Alpha. “We have to solve passive optical image recognition extremely well in order to be able to drive in any given environment and the changing environment.
“At the point at which you have solved it extremely well, what is the point in having optical – meaning LIDAR – which cannot read signs,” he added. “In my view, it is a crutch that will drive companies to a local maximum that they will find very difficult to get out of.”
Regarding what the competition are doing, Musk added: “I find it quite puzzling that companies would choose to do an active proton system in the wrong wavelength. They’re going to have a whole bunch of expensive equipment, most of which makes the car expensive, ugly and unnecessary… and I think they will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.”
The company issued its fourth quarter and full year update for 2017, with revenue of $11.8 billion (£8.5bn) for 2017, up 55% year over year from organic growth. Tesla added that it expected 2018 revenue growth to ‘significantly exceed’ 2017 growth.
The focus for a lot of the message was on the long-awaited Model 3 – in more ways than one. Tesla delivered 1,542 Model 3 vehicles in the final quarter of 2017, with a Business Insider article saying that ‘production is on track, but it’s still a complete mess.’
“The launch of Model 3 [the most recent model] is what Tesla had been building towards from day one,” the company said. “We incorporated all the learnings from the development and production of Roadster, Model S, and Model X to create the world’s first mass market electric vehicle that is priced on par with its gasoline-powered equivalents – even without incentives.
“Now we are ramping up production significantly, and as we look ahead in 2018, we are on the cusp of a step change in the world’s transition to sustainability.”
Not everyone believes in the work Tesla is doing, however. A recent study from Navigant Research assessed the better part of 20 companies developing automated driving systems and put Tesla at the bottom of the pile.
You can read the full Tesla financial report here.
Postscript: While the vast majority of the focus was on Tesla, analysts could not resist comment on Musk’s successful SpaceX launch earlier this week. One told Musk the launch was ‘probably the sickest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.’