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A Rose by Any Other Name?

Dear Elon,

I am a huge fan of your many accomplishments. Yesterday’s manned launch is nothing short of awe-inspiring. I do not even mind those quirky issues with my newest Model S . So what if I can’t drive it in the rain? That is why I kept the old one.

Even though I remain a huge fan, I do have some questions about your conversation with Adam Jonas on your latest Tesla earnings call.

You said you would never put a LiDAR on a Tesla, even if it were free. You went on to add:

you need to focus on vision because the entire road system is based on passive optical.

So you have to sell passive optical to have a self-driving system that is generally a solution. And once you solve passive optical, you’ve solved self-driving. So, why bother with anything else?

What my new Tesla can do with passive optical is simply extraordinary. You are widely known for claiming LiDAR is a fool’s errand, so this is not the first time we have heard this idea that Tesla’s will never use LiDAR.

At Autonomy Day I heard that “nobody drove here today with lasers shooting out of <your> eyes.”

That is funny for several reasons.

One, that type of argument has been used against all sorts of now commonly accepted tech, from elevators to airplanes to computers. I am sure somebody once said, in some grunty, proto-language “Nobody has ever cooked food before. Fire is very dangerous. Who needs it?” A very reasonable thing to say at the time. “All of our ancestors survived on raw meet. Why use fire?” Anybody who routinely launches humans or cars into outer space should know better than to discuss new technology this way.

Two, it is difficult to remember when I drove to a conference at all. Pre-Covid life seems so very distant. I just read you tested positive. I hope you make a quick recovery, or better yet, do not need to recover from anything at all. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.

Three, nobody drove to work with any electromagnetic radiation coming out their eyes. That is not what eyes do. Yet, anyone who drove in a Tesla was shooting 77 GHz radio waves out of their front bumper.

Teslas have 77 GHz radars from Continental pumping data into their Autopilot systems. Future vehicles might use imaging radar from Arbe Robotics.

While the only optical systems on a Tesla are passive, 77 GHz radar is not passive or optical. Arbe Robotic’s devices are not passive or optical.

Radar is acceptable to Tesla, probably even vital. When better radar systems are available I would hope Tesla will adopt those as well. Maybe a new system is smaller and less expensive? Maybe a new system provides data with much better range and velocity precision, or better angular resolution that lets you identify much smaller hazards at longer ranges- and does this while being immune to interference? Maybe a new system provides data that you cannot get from passive optical or radar, at least not at 77 GhZ, like detecting patches of black ice on the road?

What if this newer, non-passive system had to crank up the frequency from 77 GHz to 770 GhZ to provide better functionality? Or 7700 GHz? Or my favorite, around 200 THz? Why do you care about where in the electro-magnetic spectrum a sensor operates as long as the results are safe, practical, cost effective, and provide the data your Autopilot system requires to drive customers like me around safely?

This is an age where we have to get past our pre-conceived biases on many ideas.

I understand that you are not a fan of expensive, motor driven “spinning beanies” on the top of your sleek designs. You have well-founded technical reasons against specific technical implementations that operate in the near infrared. I agree with you.

That is why I am excited to work at Voyant Photonics. We are going to change that.

In the meantime, do you really need to promote biases against poorly defined regions of the EM spectrum? And maybe stop talking about how Tesla only uses passive optical until you ditch those radar systems?

Ever your fan,


Peter Stern


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