Elon Musk has confirmed today that FSD Beta 9.0 is ‘almost ready’. When exactly is still an outstanding question, but the expectation is that it will be delivered in the remaining 3 weeks of April 2021.
This release is slated to tie in with the expansion of the FSD Beta user group, which was recently expanded to 2,000 drivers and is made up of a combination of Tesla employees and US-based customers to date. The beta group will be expanded by 10x which is designed to gather more data about real-world edge cases using the latest build and speaks volumes about Tesla’s comfort level with the next major release.
To get into the beta, we understand eager Tesla owners who have purchased the Full Self Driving Package, will see a Download FSD Button in the Service menu of the car until the new slots are exhausted. It is not yet clear if we see just a US expansion, or if Tesla will expand into other countries, opening the door to new challenges (like driving on the other side of the road).
Included in FSD Beta 9.0 is a big change to Tesla’s tech stack for autonomy. In Elon Musk’s tweet today, he explained that Tesla are going with ‘pure vision, no radar‘. Since the reply to Whole Mars Catalog, there’s been much conjecture about exactly what this means.
In my mind, this indicates that Tesla has reached the point in their testing of computer vision, that shows the use of radar is no longer needed and that computer vision can replace the capabilities of radar.
Fast forwarding to when FSD is released to the general public, if radar is disabled, it makes sense that Tesla removes that piece of redundant hardware and save the estimated cost of between $50 and $200 per vehicle.
In my parent’s generation, Cruise Control was one of the revolutionary technologies that changed the way people drove. In my generation, that technology is known as Traffic-aware or Adaptive Cruise Control was that fundamental shift forward in safety. A large majority of new cars have and rely on radar to measures the distance between your car and the vehicle ahead, modulating your speed to ensure you don’t crash, even if your attention drifts.
This technology is an absolute game-changer for those who commute in heavy traffic, or those on long journeys. It has also been used to power Autonomous Emergency Braking, where the radar detects there’s a solid object ahead.
The idea that computer vision is so good as to replace radar, is a wild concept for some. Often weather conditions like fog and heavy rain are used as examples of when radar are better than cameras and vision. In today’s software stack, that’s correct, but clearly Tesla have tested their new approach of using cameras (likely with a variety of filters and exposure tricks) and are now confident Computer Vision is better, so much better they’re switching to it.
I’ve heard a number of people reference the trick where forward facing radar is used detect that the car ahead of the car ahead of you, has applied the brakes. This is done by bouncing the radar off the road below the vehicle ahead of you. The reason automakers have used this approach, is in an effort to prevent a rear-end collision if the car ahead of you slams on the brakes and your car doesn’t have enough time to respond. With more warning, the brakes can be pre-charged and ready to offer maximum braking performance.
So how would Tesla replace a radar feature like this? The answer is to accurately monitor the car ahead of you for any sign they’re slowing or braking and respond accordingly. Tesla’s vision system is capturing frames at multiple times per second and by comparing the change in movement across just a couple of frames, Tesla can extrapolate the rate of speed differential between your car and the car ahead. When a harsh braking event occurs, Tesla would be able to apply the brake assuming a safe distance, is maintained. Of course there is a physics problem if you’re on the bumper of the car ahead, but with Autopilot/FSD engaged, Tesla could easily set a safe minimum.
We know these safety systems outperform human drivers, but clearly what Tesla have seen in the data, is that their Computer Vision AI has surpassed radar’s performance, so why keep it? We won’t have to wait long to see this in action, with the imminent release of FSD Beta 9 which will inevitably generate a flood of new YouTube videos.
This tweet was followed up by a confirmation of where Tesla is headed in the future, Owen Sparks asked Elon about the future of the radar in new production vehicles and the answer was clear, Elon (Tesla) will simply remove it.
The conversation continued with Whole Mars Catalog on Twitter, helping us understand more about Tesla’s reason for the shift. The important detail here, is that the data rate (bits/sec) from cameras far exceed what they get from radar (by several orders of magnitude). This highlights that Tesla are better able to understand the environment ahead, using vision over radar, but to do that you need great AI to understand what the cameras are seeing. Clearly Tesla believe they have it sorted.
Radar is essentially a crutch and if your computer vision is good enough, you don’t need it.
As for the favourite question of the day to defend radar, Tesla_Adri asks Musk and he had this response.