If Tesla can develop autonomous cars without that tech, Keeney says that would be a huge advantage. “It’s a riskier strategy but it could pay off for them in the end,” she explains. “If Tesla solves [self-driving cars without LIDAR], everyone else is going to be kicking themselves.”
That’s a huge “if.” Without LIDAR data, Tesla may find itself at a disadvantage, according to Raj Rajkumar, the co-director of General Motors-sponsored connected and autonomous driving research lab at Carnegie Mellon University. (CMU is a school so famous for its robotics chops that Uber poached dozens of staffers in 2015.)
LIDAR is seen by many in the industry as an essential tool for creating cars that can drive themselves, and Rajkumar says there is heavy skepticism about Tesla’s approach. “We don’t think the hardware will be sufficient to do that, and I don’t think Tesla is particularly anywhere close to getting to [fully] driverless operation,” he says.