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Tesla Autopilot: a look at the camera defrosters making the system work in the snow


One of the main concerns people have about self-driving vehicles is how they perform in bad conditions, especially in the snow. Tesla is the first automaker to currently offer vehicles equipped with the sensors that the company claims will enable full self-driving and, therefore, it already had to find solutions to the problem.

It’s especially a problem with LiDAR, which is why Tesla used cameras and radar instead, but it also had to integrate defrosters on all its new cameras on the next generation Autopilot hardware. We take a look at the defrosters through recent videos of the new cars.

As we reported after Tesla announced the new generation Autopilot hardware, Tesla’s plans to bring self-driving cars to market without using LiDAR sensors are raising a few eyebrows.

In September, Tesla CEO Elon Musk had to say about the use of LiDAR sensors:

We do not anticipate using lidar. Just to make it clear, lidar essentially is active photon generator in the visible spectrum – radar is active photon generation in essentially the radio spectrum. But lidar doesn’t penetrate intrusions so it does not penetrate rain, fog, dust and snow, whereas a radar does. Radar also bounces and lidar doesn’t bounce very well. You can’t do the “look in front of the car in front of you” thing. So I think the obvious thing is to use radar and not use lidar.

It explains why Tesla went with a radar antenna complemented with a vision-heavy system, but those cameras can be covered in snow. That’s why Tesla added defrosters on them:

All of Tesla’s vehicles are now equipped with 8 cameras: 3 front-facing, 2 on each side and one in the back. The two side cameras in the front fenders are actually integrated inside the Tesla badges that were already there in the previous version of the car – which you can see above with and without the heat camera

Here’s the full video:

For the side cameras in the center of the car, Tesla made a small indentation in the center pillars between the doors. It’s not clear if those have defrosters as well, but they are less likely to be covered in snow due to their position on the vehicle.

Interestingly, another recent video shows that the defroster on the front-facing camera is active even when the car is not in use. This is particularly useful for ‘Summon’ mode and future iterations of the most recently added feature of Tesla’s Autopilot program.

If you need to Summon a Tesla, which is to remotely have the car move a small distance, like in your driveway for example, the car will not be able to do it if the sensors are covered. This feature enables it to be ready to be summoned at any time.

Here’s the video in full:

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