A significant number of Tesla engineers were overruled by the company’s CEO Elon Musk when they tried to warn him that removing the radar sensor from the American carmaker’s models would be problematic, a new report published in The Washington Post shows.
Back in May 2021, Tesla announced that it was eliminating radar on its new cars in a push to switch to the so-called Tesla Vision approach, which only uses cameras to “see” the road and neural networks that are supposed to mimic the way a human brain works.
Before the announcement, however, several Tesla engineers were worried that this move had a high risk of causing problems, including increasing the risk of accidents if the cameras were obscured by raindrops or even bright sunlight.
Tesla's "Full Self-Driving" feature in action
“Some Tesla engineers were aghast, said former employees with knowledge of his reaction, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. They contacted a trusted former executive for advice on how to talk Musk out of it, in previously unreported pushback,” The Washington Post story says.
“Musk was unconvinced and overruled his engineers. 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 interviews with nearly a dozen former employees and test drivers, safety officials and other experts, was an uptick in crashes, near misses and other embarrassing mistakes by Tesla vehicles suddenly deprived of a critical sensor,” the report adds.
According to the story, Musk’s erratic leadership played a role in the unpolished releases of its Autopilot and so-called Full Self-Driving features, with engineers forced to work at a breakneck pace to develop software and push it to the public before it was ready. More worryingly, some former Tesla employees say that even today, the software isn’t safe for public road use, with a former test operator going on record saying that internally, the company is “nowhere close” to having a finished product. The person in question was fired by Tesla in February 2022.
The American EV company led by Elon Musk eliminated the front-facing radar from its vehicles in 2021 and soon after began disabling the units that were already fitted on delivered vehicles. A year later, Tesla removed the ultrasonic sensor from its models.
As Electrek writes, Elon Musk said around the time of the removal of the radar in 2021 that he was most frustrated with the quality of the radar itself and believed that a high-resolution unit would improve the company’s driver assistance systems.
In related news, Tesla started pushing the latest update to its Full Self-Driving software a few days ago, which merges the previous two separate stacks to a single software stack.
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