Tesla’s been making some pretty big changes to their Autopilot system recently, ditching their forward-facing radar in favor of a vision-only approach. But hold up, it seems like the tech company’s newest Tesla Model X SUVs might’ve snuck a little radar action back in.
Earlier this week, twitter user @greentheonly tore into a brand spankin’ new Tesla Model X and spotted what looks to be an upgraded radar unit (Tesla Model X HW4 take apart, Radar and radar heaters were both spotted in HW4 vehicle). The new hardware looks nearly identical to Arbe Robotics’ “Phoenix” radar that Tesla’s rumored to have added, with double the range and resolution of their old radar. The board in the Model X uses an Xilinx FPGA chip, model XA7Z020, which reportedly contains two ARM A9 cores, 130-level gates, 53,200 LUTs, and DSP computing power of 276GMACs and a Micron memory chip that can hold up to 125MB.
So is this Tesla’s new 4D radar everyone’s been buzzing about? The internet seems to think so. The Phoenix radar’s got double the range of Tesla’s old radar at 300 meters, and it’s got ultra-high resolution, boasts ultra-high resolution with 1° azimuth and 1.7° elevation, that can detect elevation and azimuth way more precisely.
Tesla ditched radar from the Model 3 and Model Y back in May, with their AI lead Andrej Karpathy saying vision’s the way of the future. He pointed out three places where radar falls short: when cars brake hard, when there’s an overpass up ahead, and when there’s a big ole truck parked on the roadside. According to Karpathy, Tesla’s seen over 6,000 of these kinds of situations in the real world, and they’re using simulation to train their neural networks to handle ‘em without radar.
Despite Tesla’s simulations to improve the neural network’s ability to eliminate the need for radar, the actual performance of pure vision solutions has not been satisfactory. The launch of the eight-camera version of Tesla in North America at the end of 2021 saw a 3000% increase in complaints about “ghost braking” in a short period of time due to forward identification errors mistaking non-driving targets for cars and pedestrians.
Which makes it kinda strange that Tesla would pack an upgraded radar into their new Model X’s. The new SUVs do have Tesla’s latest HW4.0 computer onboard, but not all the HW4.0 cars are gonna have the radar (Tesla’s Latest Model Y Vehicles Come Equipped with HW4 Self-Driving Hardware) – the new Model Y missing it Model Y missing it, and we still don’t know if the new Model 3 highland will have it.
So did Tesla realize they weren’t quite ready to ditch radar for good? Are the new Model X and Model S radar-equipped as a safeguard until Tesla’s vision-only system’s a little further along? It’s clear Tesla’s path to a camera-only Autopilot future still has a few curves left to navigate.