Musk: Lidar is “Expensive, Ugly and Unnecessary”

Tesla Inc. continues to refine its Autopilot system for autonomous driving but has no plans to add lidar.

During a conference call with analysts this week, CEO Elon Musk called lidar a “crutch” that will leave rivals at a “competitive disadvantage.” Most other carmakers and tech companies that see lidar as a key enabling technology for fully autonomous vehicle systems. But Tesla believes it can accomplish the task with a combination of advanced radar, cameras and ultrasonic sensors.

Noting that other technologies are becoming more advanced in image recognition, Musk faults lidar because it can’t read road signs. He dismisses such equipment as “expensive, ugly and unnecessary.”

Tesla had planned to test its fully autonomous system by the end of last year on a cross-country trip from Los Angeles to New York City. Musk now vows the company will do so within the next six months.

Musk says the company could have met the earlier deadline with a “brittle” route-specific code. The fully developed code on tap for this year will be able to function on any route, according to Musk. He says the technology will be made available to current Tesla owners sometime after the test is completed.