Tesla CEO Elon Musk Thinks LiDAR Technology is ‘Doomed,’ Experts Disagree

Lidar is a radar-like technology that uses laser pulses to create a 3D-map of its environment, reads a new report from Ars Technica. Many see it as integral to the development of self-driving cars — but not Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

“Lidar is a fool’s errand,” Musk said in April at a Tesla event. “Anyone relying on lidar is doomed. Doomed.”

“Lidar is really a shortcut,” added Tesla AI guru Andrej Karpathy. “It sidesteps the fundamental problems of visual recognition that is necessary for autonomy. It gives a false sense of progress, and is ultimately a crutch.”

Lidar, which stands for light detection and ranging, sends out pulses that bounce off objects and return to the sensor, telling it how far away things are. Startups working with the technology have raised $1.2 billion USD in the past five years, according to CB Insights. While lidar has other uses, such as making topographical maps, most of the investing energy has surrounded autonomous driving.

Uber, Waymo, Cruise and several others use the technology in their self-driving technology stack. As proponents of the technology, they point to lidar’s ability to see through challenging weather and light conditions better than existing cameras.

Musk, on the other hand, believes that artificial intelligence-powered cameras will eventually become so good that they will render lidar technology obsolete.

Some industry insiders agree with Musk, but only to a point. Starsky Robotics, a self-driving truck startup, spurns lidar, believing it isn’t needed. Starsky co-founder Kartik Tiwari recently wrote that lidar today lacks reliability, and has insufficient range for the distance a loaded tractor-trailer needs to see to stop on highways.

Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber’s advanced technology division, doesn’t expect lidar will be needed in five years, given how good cameras and radar will get. But for now Uber continues to use lidar for its self-driving cars.

“We’re going to develop lidar until we don’t need to,” Meyhofer said. “The problem is easier to solve with lidar. It lets us do things sooner.”

Read the entire report on lidar technology over at Ars Technica.