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Tesla No Longer Needs Laser Radar for FSD Training Data Collection


Luminar Technologies recently mentioned in its letter to shareholders that electric car maker Tesla was its largest LiDAR product customer in the first quarter of 2024, with Tesla contributing more than 10 percent of Luminar’s revenue in that quarter. However, according to Elon Musk’s recent statements, Luminar’s business from Tesla may decrease.

The news has led to speculation that Tesla may switch to LIDAR for Autopilot, seemingly contradicting Musk’s previous comments calling the LIDAR option “the wrong way”. Musk had previously called lidar a “stupid errand” and a “dead end”. However, long-time Tesla followers have pointed out that Tesla has been using LiDAR equipment to validate visual data from test vehicles. So it’s no surprise that Tesla is buying LiDAR equipment from Luminar.

Responding to the news that Tesla is the largest customer, Musk said that Tesla no longer needs LiDAR equipment to collect “ground truth data” (real data in the real world, data that is known to be correct or plausible, obtained through manual labeling) for Autopilot. “We don’t need them even for that anymore,” Musk wrote.

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Tesla’s use of LiDAR equipment on its “baseline real data” collection vehicles has been under scrutiny by critics for years. That’s partly because Musk has previously said that LIDAR is cumbersome and unpromising for self-driving cars. However, Tesla’s critics usually miss the point: Musk was referring to using LiDAR on individual vehicles, not for verifying visual data.

IT House notes that this was also hinted at during Luminar’s earnings call on Tuesday, where its CEO Tom Fennimore said this is not the first time Tesla has ordered Luminar’s lidar equipment, but that Tesla is not a regular customer. “It’s not the first time they’ve ordered LIDAR from us, but I would say it’s more of a one-time deal than a recurring one. We can only guess what they do with the equipment,” Fennimore said.

Tesla has been pushing forward with its fully self-driving (FSD) technology, with Elon Musk previously announcing that on 8 August 2024, the company would release a dedicated self-driving taxi, the Cybercab. In another comment, Musk said that while Tesla isn’t necessarily betting the company on FSD, “betting fully on Autopilot is an obvious choice, everything else is just some variation of a horse and buggy.”

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