Most self-driving companies say this tech is crucial. Elon Musk disagrees.
For most people building self-driving cars, lidar is viewed as a godsend. In recent years, enthusiasm for the technology has sparked shortages of the depth-measuring sensor, acquisitions of startups developing it and more than a billion dollars of investments. Tesla CEO Elon Musk says they’re all wasting their time. “Lidar is a fool’s errand,” Musk said in April at a Tesla event. “Anyone relying on lidar is doomed. Doomed.”
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. This point cloud shows where lidar pulses reflected off nearby objects, helping a car to understand its surroundings.
Companies with the most experience developing self-driving cars — including Alphabet’s Waymo, Ford (F), and Amazon-backed Aurora — believe lidar is critical for safety. Lidar startups have raised $1.2 billion in the past five years, according to CB Insights which tracks venture capital. Lidar has other uses, such as making topographical maps, but most of the investing energy has surrounded autonomous driving.
Tesla is taking a different approach.