Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s decision to remove radar sensors so the cars relied solely on cameras for automated self-driving has come back to haunt the automaker, according to a Washington Post investigation.
The paper said radar technology was expensive and, two years ago when the supply chain was falling apart, Musk became determined to bring down the cost.
The CEO had argued eight cameras designed to view the road and spot hazards in each direction should be enough.
According to the report, “some Tesla engineers were aghast”, and even contacted a trusted former executive for advice on how to talk Musk out of the plan, in previously unreported pushback. Without radar, Teslas would be susceptible to basic perception errors if the cameras were obscured by raindrops or even bright sunlight, problems that could lead to crashes.
The Washington Post said Musk was unconvinced, overruled his engineers and, in May 2021 Tesla announced it was eliminating radar on new cars. Soon after, the company began disabling radar in cars already on the road.
The result, according to the newspaper’s interviews with nearly a dozen former employees and test drivers, safety officials and other experts, was a rise in crashes, near misses and other embarrassing mistakes by Tesla vehicles suddenly deprived of a critical sensor.
In recent weeks, the report added, Tesla has recalled and suspended the rollout of the technology to eligible vehicles amid concerns that its cars could disobey the speed limit and not heed stop signs, according to federal officials.
The Washington Post added customer complaints had been accumulating, including a lawsuit filed in federal court last month claiming that Musk has overstated the technology’s capabilities.
Meanwhile, regulators and government officials are scrutinising Tesla’s system and its past claims as evidence of safety problems mounts, according to company filings.
Musk reportedly has defended the company’s actions as long-term bets, with the prospect of unlocking tremendous value, and Tesla has said vehicles in Full Self-Driving crash at a rate at least five times less than vehicles driving normally.
Musk and Tesla did not respond to the Washington Post‘s repeated requests for comment.