Raj Rajkumar, who researches autonomous driving at Carnegie Mellon University, thinks those assumptions concern one of Tesla’s key sensors. “The radars they use are apparently meant for detecting moving objects (as typically used in adaptive cruise control systems), and seem to be not very good in detecting stationary objects,” he says.
That’s not nearly as crazy as it may seem. Radar knows the speed of any object it sees, and is also simple, cheap, robust, and easy to build into a front bumper. But it also detects lots of things a car rolling down the highway needn’t worry about, like overhead highway signs, loose hubcaps, or speed limit signs. So engineers make a choice, telling the car to ignore these things and keep its eyes on the other cars on the road: They program the system to focus on the stuff that’s moving.