News & Opinion | June 18, 2019 10:18 am

Self-Driving Car Companies Invest Heavily in This Sensor. Elon Musk Calls It a “Fool’s Errand.”

"Anyone relying on lidar is doomed. Doomed."

Elon Musk
Elon Musk doesn't believe in this self-driving sensor. (Getty)

Lidar, which stands for light detection and ranging, is an advanced piece of technology that assists self-driving cars in sensing how far they are from other objects. While startups creating lidar are being bough up for huge sums of cash and billions of dollars are being invested in lidar research, the bad boy of geniuses is shaking his head.

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

But other leaders in the self-driving race, like the Amazon-backed Aurora and Ford believe that lidar is an essential tool in keeping their ultimate goal of having cars drive themselves, safe. And others seem to agree as the venture capital tracker CB Insights found that more than $1.2 billion has been raised by lidar startup companies, according to CNN.

But Tesla is going in a different direction. Musk’s company believes that artificial intelligence-powered cameras are, instead, the future of automated driving safety.

“It seems like half the things Musk says are totally right, half are totally bonkers,” Austin Russell, the CEO of Luminar, a Silicon Valley lidar startup, told CNN in response to Musk’s public brushing off of lidar.

Meanwhile, Uber is taking a more middle of the road approach; sticking with lidar for the time being but expecting it to drop off in the future.

“We’re going to develop lidar until we don’t need to,” Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber’s advanced technology division, told CNN. “The problem is easier to solve with lidar. It lets us do things sooner.”

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