Tesla Motors Inc and Google Auto (the self-driving LLC segment of Alphabet Inc) have made it clear that they want to take different routes to building the self driving cars of the future. Tesla Motors believes that gradual improvements in driver-assist systems today would help the systems evolve into full self-driving cars in the future. Google believes that self-driving cars have to be built from the ground up in a radical shift that wants innovation to trump evolution.
Both Tesla and Google seem to have valid points in support of their theses because both firms have cars that have self-driving features on the road. Tech Insider takes time to break down the technology behind the self-driving systems of the cars of both firms. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Tesla has the most practical system even though it might take a longer time to get to full autonomous driving.
Tesla’s Radar versus Google’s LIDAR
It is impossible to create a self-driving car without “eyes” that would help the car to “see” and make decisions about its environment. The eyes help a self-driving car “see” the road, other cars, other road users, and even road signs. Tesla uses a mix of optic cameras and radar as the eyes for the autonomous feature of its cars. Google on the other hand, uses a high-tech LIDAR system as the eyes for its self-driving cars.
The tech space seems to believe that LIDAR offers the best “eyes” for self-driving cars. The LIDAR system is light-sensing radar that uses its beam to detect and measure the distance between the car and objects. Tesla uses high-tech camera sensors, long-range ultrasonic sensors that provide 360-degree vision, and a radar system as the eyes of its cars.
The LIDAR system that Google uses is highly accurate, it can pinpoint the car on an existing map, but it comes with a high price tag. The LIDAR system that Google uses in its test cars cost $75,000; in contrast, a base level Model S (with autopilot) from Tesla costs about $80,000.
It all boils down to saving costs
Tesla Motors CEO, Elon Musk has taken issue with the LIDAR system. He says, that LIDAR doesn’t really make sense for cars. In his words, “I don’t think you need LIDAR. I think you can do this all with passive optical and then with maybe one forward RADAR… if you are driving fast into rain or snow or dust. I think that completely solves it without the use of LIDAR. I’m not a big fan of LIDAR, I don’t think it makes sense in this context”.
Electric vehicles and driverless cars have the potential to be massively disruptive, but their price tags have to hit the sweet spot for most buyers; otherwise, they’ll become toys/status symbols for the elite. Tesla is trying to cut the costs of its cars and it believes that the Gigafactory should reduce the cost of the cars. Google might also be able to deliver its self-driving cars at a pocket-friendly price in the next 5 years. One of the firms that make the LIDAR system that Google uses says its LIDAR system might cost $250 starting from 2016.