The man in charge of the company that builds the LiDAR sensor on the new Volvo EX90 EV says Tesla has taken the wrong approach to autonomous driving.
Luminar CEO Austin Russell has taken aim at Tesla in an interview with Top Gear, saying that the company "has no clear or even remotely credible path" to true full self-driving. Luminar is a company specializing in autonomous driving technology. The firm supplies the LiDAR sensor that sits on the roof of the recently revealed Volvo EX90, as just one part of that vehicle's safety systems. Radar and camera systems are also featured here.
But at Tesla, things are different. The automaker has decided to stop providing radar and ultrasonic sensors to its cars, with all new Model 3 and Model Y EVs for North America, Europe, the Middle East and Taiwan to be built with only camera systems as part of a system called Tesla Vision.
By so doing, Russell says that Tesla is one of many companies to "ridiculously over-promise" on autonomous driving claims.
"Listen, [Musk has] built a great car company, a great EV company," explained Russell. "The problem is that he tries to cash in that credibility on things that don't make any sense - at all - when it comes to an assisted, autonomous driving perspective.
"The fundamental system he's built is fine; it operates as an assisted driving system. They built it to replace MobilEye, which was the previous company they'd been working with. Which they did, successfully. The only problem that I've had is that they call it 'Full Self-Driving,' which it is unquestionably, absolutely not, and has no clear or even remotely credible path to get there."
Russell doesn't seem to be wrong. Semi-autonomous Teslas have been involved in numerous fatal and serious crashes, and various Federal agencies are investigating the company over its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving systems.
Elon Musk has claimed that Teslas only need cameras because human drivers only use their eyes to detect objects. Sure, a computer that controls a car will usually have better reaction times than a human driver, but there's no doubt that more information is better. In the abovementioned Volvo EX90, the LiDAR sensor can detect objects up to 820 feet away, and it can also spot obscure objects like a tire on a dark road.
In an earlier interview with TG, Russell explained how LiDAR may someday bridge the gap to true self-driving tech.
"For the first time, you can have a system that understands exactly where all the objects are, so it doesn't take software trying to guess where everything is in the world around you. You can know at a centimeter-level [of] precision where all these objects are," said the Luminar founder, adding, "Don't get me wrong, adding more cameras and radars and everything is great, but the reality is that it'll always leave you guessing. Versus with the LiDAR, that's how you know."
With the decision to move to less advanced technology with Tesla Vision, one can't help but wonder if Tesla will ever achieve true self-driving. The Volvo EX90 can detect obstacles over 800 feet away, a new LiDAR system can detect, identify, and avoid obstacles that are more than 3,280 feet away, and Mercedes-Benz became the first automaker worldwide to receive internationally valid system approval for Level 3 driving, with Level 4 hardware already installed. Unsurprisingly, the Mercedes Drive Pilot system employs camera, radar, and LiDAR systems.
Instead of buying social media platforms and causing turmoil thereupon, perhaps Musk should have spent $50 billion on advancing true self-driving technology.
"It's not even just about autonomy in the traditional sense; it's about safety," added Russell. "It all comes back to that. And that's where real consumer value is - it's not just about the sexy new feature you brand arbitrarily, it's about saving lives."