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Facebook CTO shares insights on Tesla’s shift to pure vision for Autopilot

By @Simon Alvarez /Twitter

Tesla’s decision to abandon radar and focus instead on a pure vision strategy in its efforts to achieve self-driving features may be controversial even among the company’s most ardent fans, but Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer seems to be on the EV maker’s side. In a series of posts on Twitter, the Facebook CTO shared his thoughts on Tesla’s bold strategy and why it may actually work.

Schroepfer, who is known for his work on artificial technology for Facebook, noted that Tesla’s pure vision approach is actually pretty clever. This is because Tesla has the ability to capture and label data at a fleet-wide scale. He also reiterated a point that Elon Musk previously made on Twitter—that sensor fusion becomes tricky, especially when two sensors disagree.

@schrep /Twitter

Granted, radar has played a key role in improving the safety of Tesla’s vehicles. Numerous Tesla owners over the years have remarked that their vehicles’ radar has detected hazards on the road in situations where pure vision would have been compromised. It would now be up to the company to prove that its vehicles could maintain their safety even after losing radar; or better yet, improve their safety after losing the sensor.

Ultimately, Schroepfer also highlighted that humans drive vehicles with mostly vision alone. And while it is true that a well-rested, focused, and trained human driver would be excellent on the road, very rarely do drivers tick all three boxes at all times. This is proven by the fact that a good number of accidents on the road could be attributed to distracted driving or exhausted drivers. Computers, such as those used by Tesla, have the potential to tick all three boxes all the time.

@schrep /Twitter

In previous comments, Elon Musk has noted that a move to pure vision should help Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving system improve significantly. The CEO hinted at some of the issues that such a change could address, such as phantom braking. However, Tesla is still maintaining its cautious stance amidst its shift, as evidenced by the company’s restrictions on features such as Autosteer when the pure vision update rolls out.

As per the EV maker, for a short period during the transition to pure vision, vehicles with no radar would have some features temporarily limited or inactive. These include Autosteer, which would be limited to 75 mph and a longer minimum following distance. Smart Summon and Emergency Lane Departure Avoidance may be disabled at delivery as well. These features would then be restored as over-the-air updates are deployed.

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