In a recent interview with MIT’s Lex Fridman, Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Google X and Google's Self Driving Car Project, remarked that he actually uses Tesla’s Autopilot system regularly. What’s more, he thinks that Autopilot, legitimately makes him drive a lot safer.
Tesla’s approach to achieving Full Self-Driving is quite different compared to other companies that are also pursuing autonomous vehicle solutions. Unlike firms such as Waymo and Cruise--both of whom use LiDAR in their approach--Tesla has adopted a system that primarily uses a suite of cameras, radar, and ultrasonic sensors to enable vehicles to operate on their own. Tesla’s approach is undoubtedly controversial, and CEO Elon Musk has received a lot of flak over the company’s non-LiDAR setup.
While speaking with Fridman, Thrun admitted that he owns a Tesla, and he loves his vehicle. He also said that he uses Autopilot “literally every day” and that it’s a “beautiful technology” that has kept him safe on the road numerous times.
“First of all, I’m a very proud Tesla owner, and I literally use Autopilot every day, and it literally has kept me safe. It’s a beautiful technology, specifically for highway driving when I’m slightly tired, because then, it turns me into a much safer driver, and I’m 100% confident that’s the case,” Thrun said.
.@SebastianThrun talking about his experience using Tesla Autopilot every day & @elonmusk's thoughts on Lidar. Sebastian led the Google Self-Driving Car program and is one of the central figures in the autonomous vehicle revolution. Full conversation: https://t.co/6aJlDMIxh0 pic.twitter.com/uP69I1LcT8— Lex Fridman (@lexfridman) December 23, 2019
When asked later about his thoughts on Elon Musk’s open dislike for LiDAR for autonomous cars, the Waymo founder was quite candid. Thrun noted that Tesla’s approach--and in extension, Elon Musk’s stance--is yet to be proven right. That being said, the driving process for human beings does support Musk’s thesis.
“I think, first of all, we all know that people can drive cars without LiDARs in their heads, because we only have eyes, and we mostly just use eyes for driving. Maybe we use some other perception of our bodies, accelerations, occasionally, our ears, certainly not our noses. So the existence proof is there, that eyes must be sufficient. In fact, we could even drive a car if someone put a camera out, and then gave us a camera image with no latency, we would be able to drive a car that way,” he added.
Thrun’s recent statements on Autopilot and Tesla’s camera-focused approach for Full Self-Driving holds a lot of weight, considering that they are from the actual founder of Waymo. Google's subsidiary is a company that is regarded as one of the world’s pioneers and undisputed leaders in autonomy.
If Thrun, who actually ran Waymo in the past, believes that there is a lot of validity in Tesla’s non-LiDAR approach, then Elon Musk may definitely be proven right in the long run. If a man who was among the first to help develop full self-driving sincerely believes that Autopilot keeps him safe on the road, then Musk’s statements about Tesla's driver-assist system being a safety feature really holds water.
Watch Lex Fridman and Sebastian Thrun’s conversation in the video below.
Featured Image Credit: Lex Fridman/Twitter