Tesla is ditching ultrasonic sensors from new cars because it bets on camera assistance only

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Tesla has announced it stops the use of ultrasonic sensors (USS) for cars to detect objects in the world around them. It’s part of the company’s shift to its camera-only Tesla Vision driver-assist technology, which contrasts with the rest of the industry’s reliance on a mix of LIDAR, radar, and cameras. Electrek reports that the ultrasonic sensors in Tesla’s cars are primarily used for close-range sensing to assist with parking and collision warnings.

The sensors will initially disappear this month from new Model 3 and Model Y vehicles sold in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Taiwan before expanding globally, Tesla said. It plans to stop including the sensors in Model S and Model X cars next year.

Tesla says the shift in ultrasonic sensors will not affect cars’ crash safety ratings. However, cars shipped without the sensors will “temporarily” lose access to certain features, including Park Assist, Autopark, Summon and Smart Summon. The company plans to restore these features once they perform equally well with the camera-based system.

Tesla’s list of features that will initially be missing on cars without ultrasonic sensors.
Image: Tesla

The move from ultrasonic sensors follows a similar announcement from Tesla last year that it will no longer ship cars with radar. Going forward, the company will instead rely solely on its camera-based Tesla Vision system for driver assistance functions. Last year, The New York Times reported Tesla CEO Elon Musk had “repeatedly told members of the Autopilot team that people could drive with only two eyes and that this meant that cars should only be able to drive with cameras.”

As with the removal of the ultrasonic sensors, the removal of radar last year resulted in temporary limits on a handful of features such as Smart Summon. Over the months, these limitations were: then relaxand Tesla now says that these cars have “maintained or improved their active safety ratings in the US and Europe” and that safety features such as automatic pedestrian emergency braking are actually better with cameras than radar.

But last year’s shift of radar wasn’t entirely without its problems. It came at the same time as a increase in reports of “phantom breaking”, that’s when a car’s driver assistance systems apply the brakes because they mistakenly believe the car is about to crash into something. The Washington Post reported on a sharp rise in complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about problems with automatic braking, coinciding with when Tesla stopped shipping vehicles with radar sensors.

If you want to see if a Tesla is equipped with the sensors, Drive Tesla Canada has a handy diagram of the positions of the sensors on the front and rear bumpers of the car.

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