During the first day of CES 2021, Mobileye (an Intel company), discussed their strategy and technology that will enable autonomous vehicles.
For Intel to invite the Mobileye president and chief executive officer Amnon Shashua to present during their slot at CES, is no small deal. This will be watched by millions and during an interview with Autonocast co-host Ed Niedermeyer, Mobileye paved a very interesting road ahead.
In the industry of autonomous vehicles, there’s a big debate happening among the community. On one side, you have Tesla pioneering a computer vision approach (also leverages front facing radar and ultrasonics), verses many other in the industry like Mobileye, that believe LiDAR has to be part of the solution.
During the Q&A section of Tesla’s Autonomy Day in April 2019, Elon Musk famously said ‘Lidar is a fool’s errand’.. ‘Anyone relying on lidar is doomed’ which of course was based on the Lidar tech available at that time, but we are seeing rapid development in this space (see NIO’s integration on their ET7).
It’s possible Musk is right and the FSD beta is certainly showing lots of potential for their solution to allow cars to reach level 4/5 of autonomy, but we’re not there yet.
Mobileye really did something quite interesting today, without calling out Tesla directly, anyone familiar with the game, knew exactly who they were speaking about. Mobileye presented the argument that their technology is the only safe way of approaching this challenge, using a combination of cameras, backed up by a redundancy of Radar and Lidar.
Shashua suggests that the challenge of having regulators approve self-driving cars would only happen if you could ensure them you have this level of redundancy, which of course Tesla does not.
Musk would certainly argue that if your computer vision technology was good enough, you don’t need the extra cost and complexity that a redundant lidar and radar system would include.
There is no company that has the volume of data that Tesla has about driving in the real world. Lex Fridman has estimated that Tesla will reach 5.1 Billion autopilot miles in 2021. This translates to around 8.2 Billion kilometres which will be important shortly.
This data is helpful in training the vehicle’s knowledge of the world and can then be leveraged to accommodate weird edge cases that occur in the world. As users report bugs, often by disengaging autopilot, or in the case of FSDbeta participants, by explicitly tapping a report button, Tesla can work on solving specific issues and one by one, eliminate them until we reach a point where the car is provably safe.
Now if you’re the competition and you see no way of catching up to Tesla in data, you’re solution based on that same tech stack, will always come up short. Instead you’d want to take a different approach, then promote that as the ‘correct’ or ‘safe’ way of achieving autonomous vehicles.
This is actually pretty risky, in that if Mobileye (and their partners) are able to convince legislators that LiDAR is required for safety, then Tesla has a massive problem on their hands.
Shashua mentioned that there is new tech on the way that will help achieve Level 4/5, which he anticipates will enable robotaxis by 2025. That timeline is really important in the context of what Tesla has committed to (remember Elon Time). Musk recently re-committed to delivering their solution this year, pending regulatory approval. If things went well, their fleet of millions of cars, could be awake in 2022, which leaves Mobileye’s solution a few years too late.