Tesla’s Autopilot driver-assist system has long been a leader in the auto industry, albeit controversially. It now finds itself following in the footsteps of an unlikely competitor: Subaru.
In many ways, the two automakers are diametrically opposed. Subaru makes family haulers for outdoor enthusiasts, while Tesla has become a status symbol in pop culture thanks to features like super-quick “Ludicrous mode.”
Tesla announced last month that it will no longer include radar for driver-assist systems in its best-selling vehicles, the Model 3 and Y, instead relying on cameras for Autopilot in those new models, defying industry wisdom on the subject.
For features like adaptive cruise control, which slows and speeds up depending on the cars in front, most automakers prefer that their vehicles’ driver-assist systems include radar. Radar excels at determining how fast other vehicles are moving and can see through inclement weather such as rain or snow. As the only automakers to rely solely on cameras for driver-assist technology, Tesla and Subaru have something in common.
According to some autonomous driving experts, Autopilot’s decision to stop using radar is a significant step backwards in quality. Others argue that, given Subaru’s track record of awards while using a camera-based system for nearly a decade, Autopilot is just a hair away from being good enough. Others argue that real-world testing is required to determine how Autopilot’s quality has improved.
Tesla’s removal of radar, according to Sam Abuelsamid, associate director of the consulting firm Guidehouse Insights, makes the cars less safe. He cites Tesla’s limitations on the new camera-only version of Autopilot as proof that the driver-assist technology isn’t as good as it was when cameras and radar were used.
Most Teslas, including those delivered before May, will be unaffected by these restrictions because they will continue to have radar-assisted Autopilot for the time being. Tesla has not stated whether or when old Teslas equipped with radar will be upgraded to the camera-only version of Autopilot.
Tesla said the restrictions on radar-free vehicles will be in place for a “limited time,” but did not specify how long. Tesla said that autosteer, a feature that keeps the car in a lane, will be limited to 75 mph and will have a longer minimum following distance from cars in front of it, as well as emergency lane departure avoidance.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment from the professional news media, as it does not engage with them on a regular basis.
According to Musk, vision has more precision than radar, so it’s better to focus on it rather than combining the sensors. He also stated that radar needed to improve in order for the complexity of integrating it to be worthwhile.
Experts in autonomous driving. According to Glen de Vos, chief technology officer of Aptiv, a company that provides automakers with driver-assist systems, cameras will never be as good as radar at measuring speed, and they’re best used in tandem with radar.
This could have a significant impact on the quality of safety features such as automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control. Radar, according to experts, directly measures the velocity of a leading vehicle, allowing for faster and more accurate recognition of the need to slam on the brakes in an unsafe situation.
“You take vision for what it does really well and you take radar for what it does really well, and you blend them together for the highest performance,” de Vos told CNN Business.
Subaru, on the other hand, has defied conventional wisdom for years with its EyeSight two-camera system, which includes adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, and lane-keep assist. Since 2013, Subaru has sold over a million vehicles with EyeSight, whereas most automakers rely on camera and radar for these functions.