The withdrawal of ultrasonic sensors by Tesla in its electric cars, which are capable of detecting nearby obstacles, has created many controversies that car expert Sandy Munro wanted to clarify. The manufacturer has decided to eliminate this element from its vehicles in another move that clearly indicates that in the future there is no going back in the transition to the Tesla Vision system, based solely on cameras. This measure has been analyzed by experts from Munro & Associates, from the point of view of cost reductions and its actual impact on security.
Sandy Munro is a former Ford Motor engineer who, in more than three decades of hard work, has been committed to competitive analysis in the automotive industry. He currently chairs Munro & Associates, a US firm based in Auburn Hills, Michigan, specializing in disassembling vehicles piece by piece and marketing reports to other manufacturers and suppliers (that is, reverse engineering). His knowledge is widely recognized by the car industry, since in most cases he is right in his statements and predictions about who is leading the way and who is lagging behind, at a technical level.
Last year when Tesla removed radar support from its vehicles, starting in 2021, the move was seen as a cost-saving measure that could actually affect safety. The support features were in fact degraded after the change: initially these vehicles equipped with the Tesla Vision system lost features such as Smart Summon and Emergency Lane Departure Avoidance; speeds allowed by the autopilot were limited to 75 miles/h and the minimum following distance was also increased. Subsequently, all these changes were gradually reverted through OTA updates.
While radar is directly involved in wide-range security features, the ultrasonic sensors that Tesla is removing this time have their range in areas closer to the vehicle. They are responsible for the detection of nearby objects, especially in low-speed maneuvers such as parking (automatic or manual) and collision warnings, and the manual or automatic Summon function.
Munro & Associates has analyzed the implications of giving up ultrasonic sensors and has come to some very interesting conclusions: the first one is related to the economic cost they actually entail. Although the sensors are not necessarily very expensive, they are not the cheapest item in the car either: to the cost of the device itself it must be added the cabling, connectors and controller chips costs.
In the Youtube video, Mike Lane of Munro Live says the savings could basically reach $150 per car. Even though this may seem like a really small amount, in fact Tesla will be selling around two million EV models next year (and that is according to very conservative scenarios), which means it could potentially save $300 million, and that is not taking into account the logistics costs involved in transporting and storing these components.
But the withdrawal of the sensors also has very important security implications. The cameras will be able to detect objects around the car; however the configuration of the cameras does not actually allow to see close to the vehicle, so there are many "dead zones" around, at a distance of approximately three feet and at a height of approximately 12 inches. As Munro shows in the graphs, camera visibility is poor in this area, which has direct implications for automated parking, obstacle detection, and cross-traffic viewing.
However, these limitations could be reduced after the recent announcement of the association of Tesla and Samsung to upgrade cameras from 1.2 megapixels to 5, which could in turn greatly improve object recognition; although this update also implies the need to expand the vision field of these cameras in order to bring them as close as possible to the vehicle body.
Source: Sandy Munro
All images courtesy of Tesla Inc.
Nico Caballero is the VP of Finance of Cogency Power, specializing in solar energy. He also holds a Diploma in Electric Cars from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, and enjoys doing research about Tesla and EV batteries. He can be reached at @NicoTorqueNews on Twitter. Nico covers Tesla and electric vehicle latest happenings at Torque News.