Occupy Mars, a Tesla owner and electric vehicle mechanic, uploaded a video showing their 2018 Tesla Model 3 measuring distances without its ultrasonic sensors (USS).
In a 10.5-minute video, Occupy Mars describes how they came across this anomaly. The vehicle was operating on version 2022.28.2, which was made available in September 2022, but it was still able to measure distances without the aid of USS.
Occupy Mars moved the car out of their garage without the front bumper and verified that all ultrasonic sensors were turned off. They did notice, though, that their Model 3 was correctly detecting a car next to it and showing the proper distances on the screen. This seems to be proof that Tesla is testing its Tesla Vision system, which only works on cars equipped with USS and can detect objects nearby and display distances.
Confirming Camera Detection
Though a large portion of the car is disassembled, it is interesting to note that Occupy Mars’ vehicle only detected the distances when moving backward. This may have been the result of initial software or hardware problems. Occupy Mars noticed the Model 3 was not showing the distance when they drew up close to the garage. It was instead spotting objects at the car’s corners. This makes sense given the vehicle’s blind spot in front of it, which cameras cannot see.
Occupy Mars taped the front-facing and B-pillar cameras to show that they were being used to measure distances by the vehicle. The moment the car’s cameras were obscured, the arcs and distances to nearby objects were no longer displayed.
The vehicle’s radar was physically unplugged by Occupy Mars in order to rule out the use of radar, but the vehicle still detected objects and displayed distances with the cameras exposed.
Running Vision in Shadow Mode
What appears to be taking place is that Tesla is actively testing and gathering data from vehicles that have ultrasonic sensors, and it appears that they have been doing so for a number of months. Prior to now, the USS were solely in charge of determining distances to nearby objects, but it appears Tesla is now employing a more recent version of Tesla Vision in shadow mode. This enables Tesla to run test code in the background before letting the car or the driver rely on it to determine its accuracy. Before making the new system public, Tesla uses the vision-detected distances and compares those numbers to the results of the vehicle’s ultrasonic sensors.
The Removal of Ultrasonic Sensors
On October 4th, 2022, Tesla announced that they were removing ultrasonic sensors from their vehicles and beginning the transition into their own proprietary “Tesla Vision.” Tesla announced that the USS was no longer a standard feature on Model 3 and Model Y vehicles built in October 2022 and later. Later on, Tesla also took USS out of the Model S and Model X.
Drivers and automotive experts, including the team from Munro Live, were a little taken aback by this. Modern vehicles come equipped with the USS as standard. To increase vehicle safety, they are used to measure distances in confined spaces. Despite some objections from the Tesla community and experts, Tesla is confident that they can continue to operate with a comparable level of safety and accuracy without the USS.
Savings Due to the Removal of Ultrasonic Sensors
According to Munro Live, Tesla is saving an estimated $114 per vehicle by doing away with the USS, which, given Tesla’s volume, amounts to about $100 million annually. Given that Tesla is updating its Model 3 to reduce costs so potential customers can benefit from the new federal tax credit, this effort makes sense.
There is a three-foot blindspot in front of the car, as mentioned in the Munro Live video. The rumored Tesla fix for the three-foot blindspot is to have the car remember what it sees when it is moving in the direction of an object. How will the vehicle know where something is placed or if it has moved in front of it if it is parked for a long time?
Tesla could keep processing camera data while parked, as they do in Sentry Mode, but this would eventually use a lot of battery.
When a Tesla vehicle is first started, it might simply not have the ability to detect objects in front of it.
It is clear that Tesla intends to address the lack of USS, but it appears the fix is taking longer than anticipated. More recently, Tesla owner and hacker GreenTheOnly discovered code of Tesla testing vision-based USS-type detection in update 2022.40. Tesla may soon release the long-awaited update that brings back USS-type detection, even though nothing has been officially announced by the company.