Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess shared some thoughts on lidar in a recent Reddit Q&A session. Diess answered a variety of questions that were focused on software, electrification, and autonomy. When asked about his thoughts on lidar technology, he said that it was essential in achieving Level 3 autonomy.
“Lidar technology is still expensive, but today [it’s] the only way to offer redundant perception to the 360 camera systems which are a must. Safety is really crucial in autonomous driving. For level 3 driving you need redundant perception.”
Diess and Tesla CEO Elon Musk are friends but the two have completely different viewpoints on lidar. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as you can be friends with someone while not agreeing on every single point. Life would be a bit boring if we all thought the exact same way. Nonetheless, we will eventually see which of them is right on this.
Pure vision, especially when using explicit photon count, is much better than radar+vision, as the latter has too much ambiguity – when radar & vision disagree, it is not clear which one to believe
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 22, 2021
More recently, Elon pointed out that pure vision is much better than radar and vision. In part, this is because when the latter two have a disagreement, it can be a bit confusing. This isn’t the only time Elon Musk has criticized lidar. He has done so for years. During Tesla’s Autonomy Day in 2019, Elon said that eventually companies will dump lidar. He added that anyone relying on lidar is doomed.
“What we are going to explain to you today, is that lidar is a fool’s errand. And anyone relying on lidar is doomed. Doomed! Expensive sensors that are unnecessary. It’s like having a whole bunch of expensive appendices. Like one appendix is bad. Well, now we’ll put in a whole bunch of them. That’s ridiculous. You’ll see.”
AEye, a company that focuses on designing mission-critical targeting systems for fighter jets, shared an interesting blog post in support of Elon’s thoughts on lidar — in part. The post, “Elon Musk Is Right: LiDAR Is a Crutch (Sort of.),” pointed out that relying solely on lidar could lead autonomous vehicle companies into innovation challenges because lidar is simply not enough. It can only get a company so far. The author wrote:
“LiDAR is not enough. Autonomous vehicles require a rapid, accurate and complete perception system. It is a system-level problem that requires a system-level solution.
“My agreement with Mr. Musk may seem surprising given that our company, AEye, sees LiDAR as playing a significant role in making driverless cars a commercial reality.
“But we too have realized that if autonomous vehicles are ever going to be capable of avoiding accidents and saving lives, LiDAR is not the answer. At least not by itself.”
Although the author agreed with Elon, he pointed out that lidar is a part of the answer.
“At Tesla, Mr. Musk is forsaking LiDAR for a 2D camera-based vision system. While Mr. Musk is known for disruptive thinking, it is hard to escape the fact that autonomous vehicles move through a 3D world and successful navigation of that world requires the seamless integration of both 2D and 3D data precisely mapped to both time and space.
“At AEye, we believe LiDAR is the foundation of the solution when it seamlessly integrates with a multi-sensor perception system that is truly intelligent and dynamic. Our research has produced an elegant and multi-dimensional visual processing system modeled after the most effective in existence — the human visual cortex.”
The blog post went on to talk about AEye’s own product, called iDAR, which stands for Intelligent Detection and Ranging, noting that the robotic perception system is more reliable than human vision with the possibility of enabling cars to see as people do.
“We respect Musk’s innovations and are grateful to him shedding light on where LiDAR needs to go to reach full autonomy. But in the end, as we see LiDAR as a lever, rather than a crutch, we can only give him partial credit for his understanding of the way forward.”
Whether one agrees with the AEye blog post or not, we are witnessing history. Tesla’s continued success with its Full Self-Driving (beta) program which is now using only vision-based cameras, is completely revolutionizing the industry.
Zero takeover drive through San Francisco with Tesla FSD Beta 10.10.2
If you can't see what a huge breakthrough this is, I don't know what to tell you. @elonmusk https://t.co/FlXcVFXDaM pic.twitter.com/1CVEoxh37G
— Whole Mars Catalog (@WholeMarsBlog) February 20, 2022
In the video above, WholeMars noted that he had a zero-takeover drive through San Francisco with Tesla FSD Beta 10.10.2. He added that the car is navigating through the entire city on its own. You can view the raw footage here.
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