Elon Musk, Lidar Hater, Is Probably Going To Use Lidar In Teslas

Photo: Apu Gomes (Getty Images)

Photo: Apu Gomes (Getty Images)

Elon Musk has long been a fan of, well, fibbing, and now it seems very possible he was caught in a little lie once again. The Tesla CEO has been a detractor of lidar sensors for self-driving vehicles for some time now. He’s gone so far as to say other automakers are going to “dump lidar […] Mark my words.” Well, folks, as it turns out, Tesla may indeed be using lidar seniors.

During Lidar supplier Luminar Technologies’ Q1 financial report on May 7, it said that “Tesla was our largest lidar customer” in the first quarter of 2024, according to Automotive News. Lol, lmao. Over 10 percent of Luminar’s quarterly revenue can be attributed to sales to Tesla, the company reported.

All of that translates to about $2.1 million worth of lidar, based on Luminar’s $21 million in Q1 revenue, The Verge reports. The Austin, Texas-based automaker bought so much lidar from Luminar that it helped offset a quarter-over-quarter revenue drop. Just as an added little bonus, much like Tesla, Luminar is also going through its own rounds of layoffs.

Here’s more on the lidar purchase and Musk’s thoughts on the technology, From The Verge:

It’s a remarkable reversal for Tesla, which has famously winnowed down over the years the number of sensors it uses to power its advanced driver-assist features like Autopilot and Full Self-Driving — features that Musk has constantly sold as a precursor to a fully autonomous vehicle fleet. Later this year, Tesla is expected to reveal a robotaxi prototype on which Musk is betting the future of his company.

Musk’s lidar allergy was even on display during Tesla’s own quarterly earnings call, in which he boasted about how his vehicles only rely on camera-based vision systems to power their driver-assist features.

“It is obvious that our solution with a relatively low-cost inference computer and standard cameras can achieve self-driving,” Musk said. “No lidars, no radars, ultrasonic. Nothing.”

To be fair to Tesla, we don’t really know what that $2.1 million in lidar is going to be for. We’d reach out to Tesla for comment, but the tape on their answering machine is probably full.

Here are The Verge’s thoughts on the matter since the author of this story knows a hell of a lot more about Lidar than I do:

Even if Tesla is using Luminar’s lidar to validate its Full Self-Driving feature in preparation for a robotaxi launch, that’s still a lot of lidar. According to Luminar, individual lidar sensors cost around $1,000, including software. Did Tesla buy 2,100 lidars for its vehicles? Maybe! The company is quietly operating an autonomous testing fleet in a number of cities, including San Francisco and Las Vegas. Is it going to retrofit those company-owned vehicles with Luminar’s lidar? If it does, people will notice — just like they noticed the one Model Y in Florida several years ago. We’ll know soon enough whether those vehicles are set to hit the road.

What does seem clear is that Tesla is changing its tune on lidar, even if publicly Musk is still anti-lidar. Eventually, the CEO himself may be forced to swallow his pride and admit that lasers are indeed the sauce.

Historically, Lidar has been the most expensive sensor for vehicles, and that’s one of the big reasons Musk isnot been a fan of it, according to AutoNews. Back in 2020, Musk said, “In cars, it’s freaking stupid. It’s expensive and unnecessary. You have expensive hardware that’s worthless on the car.”

Masterful gambit, sir.

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