In April of 2019, one particular piece of technology felt intentionally left out of Tesla’s first “Autonomy Day” event. Taking questions from the press, Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk warned the crowd about self-driving cars that rely on lidar.

“Lidar is a fool’s errand,” Elon Musk said . “Anyone relying on lidar is doomed.”

Lidar technology uses near-infrared light to detect objects around a vehicle and generate three-dimensional images of the surroundings.

The technology, however, is also costly, Musk said in 2019.

“It’s like having a whole bunch of expensive appendices,” the Tesla CEO told the crowd.

Years later, is lidar still considered by some to be a costly add-on to the self-driving car?

In a live Tech Briefs presentation titled “LiDAR’s Newest Tricks,” a reader had the following question for Dr. Alex Coney, a photonics and lidar expert at The Technology Partnership (TTP) consultancy:

“I had heard it asserted from Elon Musk that lidar is not needed for ADAS. If the industry is otherwise in agreement that it is needed, how would an OEM succeed with ADAS absent of lidar?”

Read Coney’s edited response below.

Dr. Alex Coney, TTP: This comes back to the question of sensor fusion. I mentioned before that you need a lot of redundancy on these vehicles to avoid crashes and to maintain operability. But the main area that lidar excels is its high resolution.

To achieve that ranging at that resolution, you could use stereoscopic vision-based systems. This is similar to how your eyes work. You have two cameras; you can tell distance from that.

However, what Elon Musk was saying was that if our eyes can do it, then, with the right computing power, we should be able to do it. And we should be able to use radar where the gaps are.

To achieve this, the level of computing that you need is not feasible, not in the near future. And it’s not something that would be able to be put on a car. My understanding is that Elon Musk is one of the very few people who have that opinion in the industry.

What do you think? Share your questions and comments below.

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