Tesla promised several years ago that its electric cars would leave its factories with all the necessary hardware to support full autonomous driving in the future. Regardless of whether they were activated or not - which is due to the configuration chosen at the time of purchase - all the necessary devices would be on board in case it was decided to purchase those functionalities later. A strategy that, in theory, made it possible to reduce production costs, but which turned out not to be true.
Over time, Tesla has seen that some of these devices were becoming obsolete and that they needed more advanced ones, such as computers or cameras. Now, as reflected in documents filed last year at the FCC (US Federal Communications Commission), the manufacturer is about to launch a new set of Autopilot HW4 sensors.
The document mentions that this new hardware will be marketed from "mid-January" on, although for now there is no news that any unit with the new configuration is circulating. According to this document, the implementation of high-definition radar is quite clear, which is a notable change from the current approach based only on camera vision.
In December 2022, the prototype of a camouflaged Tesla Model 3 was sighted circulating in Santa Cruz, California. On its front end, it displayed some modifications that turned out to be very intriguing and controversial. Although the images did not provide a clear view of the new sensors, the headlights appeared to feature a strange black dot, which many believed to be a camera.
Now, thanks to a leak of the FCC document and Chris Zheng posting it on his Twitter profile, more details are known about the HW4 sensor suite. The three front cameras will leave their configuration to be reduced to two; the reason could be the long-announced increase in resolution and enlargement of its field of view, which would make the third camera redundant.
The photos in the tweet also show that the front cameras now have a more rounded viewfinder. They now have a fan to cool them in direct sunlight and possibly a heater as well, most likely to prevent fogging. The B-pillar chambers also feature these heating devices, although the implementation of this feature will be evaluated "after feedback from the project", according to the leaked document.
Given these changes, the battle of accusations and attacks between the fervent Tesla defenders and its detractors has exploded again: the argument of the latter is that Tesla not only reduces costs, but also security in order to lower the price of its electric cars. Adding to that is the somehow controversial withdrawal of ultrasonic sensors announced in October 2022, to entrust their function to cameras-only.
The eight high-resolution cameras feeding data to the Autopilot computer should be a major upgrade in terms of processing power, though. But this in turn raises even more questions about whether Tesla models - sold so far with the HW3 hardware - will continue to support what the company calls FSD (Full Self Driving), the very famous full autonomous driving that should arrive in the not too distant future.
The Autopilot HW 4.0 front camera will be reduced to two Cz of the significant increase in both pixel density and field of view. pic.twitter.com/vYXVYZzSln— Chris Zheng (@ChrisZheng001) January 13, 2023
To sum up, Tesla’s introduction of the HW4 hardware is a major cost reduction measure, which will allow them to make electric cars more accessible to all. It is also a major upgrade in terms of processing power, though it raises questions about whether some Tesla models will continue to support Full Self Driving.
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.