Tesla Scraps Radar, Ships Cars Without It

Tesla is getting rid of radar in its 2021 Model 3 and 2021 Model Y vehicles, the company said in a blog post on Tuesday, May 25, 2021. Elon Musk announced Tesla Vision, a camera-based system for Tesla’s semi-autonomous driving feature. Tesla is so over radar, in fact, that they’ve started shipping cars without it. 

A red Tesla sign.
The Tesla logo | VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Currently the Tesla Autopilot feature uses radar 

The Tesla semi-automated driving feature known as Autopilot operates by sending radio waves out and measuring the time it takes for them to bounce off of objects and return. Now Tesla semi-automated cars will operate using a camera-based system, called Tesla Vision. Tesla Vision will use neutral net processing to allow the 2021 Model 3 and 2021 Model Y to maintain safety while driving semi-autonomously. This new monitoring system will allow Tesla to utilize functions like lane-keeping assistance and cruise control without the help of radar. 

Will camera-based systems work as well as radar sensors?

A blue 2021 Model 3 on display.
A Tesla Model 3 | VCG/VCG via Getty Images

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That remains to be seen. Most car manufacturers making semi-autonomous vehicles are using radar and lidar in addition to cameras. Lidar sensors work by sending pulsated light waves out and calculating the time it takes them to return. Although camera data can be recorded and analyzed to improve safety, it isn’t as in-the-moment safe as radar and lidar. 

Add to that the fact that automated and semi-automated vehicles are hardly perfect, and the safety of only a camera-based system is debatable.

Why is Tesla scrapping radar in favor of Tesla Vision?

Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc.
Elon Musk | Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The main reason that Tesla is getting rid of its radar system is that it’s expensive. Not only that, but it takes a lot of computer power. Additionally, Elon Musk isn’t a fan of lidar, which he called a “crutch.” However, the Model S and Model X will continue to use radar (for now, anyway). 

It won’t be a seamless transition

Tesla has cautioned its electric car owners with the new Tesla Vision that the semi-automatic driving system wouldn’t operate as well as it has been. The company has to make technical adjustments to Tesla Vision so that it operates as smoothly as the radar system did. Of course, this means that Tesla drivers are essentially testing the new functions. 

While Tesla makes these technical adjustments, features like Autosteer will be limited to a max speed of 75 MPH, and the following distance will be lengthened. Smart Summon, the driverless feature which allows a Tesla to leave its parking space and drive to its owner at a low rate of speed, will be disabled. (You’ll have to play with a remote control car instead.) So will Emergency Lane Departure Avoidance.

What if I already ordered a Tesla and I don’t want Tesla Vision?

The Tesla Inc. Model Y crossover electric vehicle sits on display during an unveiling event.
The Tesla Inc. Model | Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Not to worry. If you’ve already purchased a Model 3 or Model Y Tesla and didn’t know that your new car is coming with cameras instead of radars, it isn’t too late. Tesla is informing buyers before they accept delivery of their cars, so there’s still time to opt-out.