Using a neural net to detect rain using cameras (no dedicated rain or sun sensors). Computers are very patient. https://t.co/YM0tQ6vLOV
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 3, 2018
Using systems already in the car
New, well-optioned cars often include a dedicated rain sensor to turn on the wipers automatically. Tesla has held off adding that feature, but recently added this new “neural net” business to use existing cameras to detect the rain, instead of adding extra hardware.
This is classic Musk use of Principle 6 – Universality.
Decontenting vs Universality
“Decontenting” was a pejorative term applied to a practice of auto manufacturers (particularly Japanese firms in the 90s who were wrestling with a high exchange rate making their products uncompetitive) removing bits and pieces from their cars that weren’t perceived to affect buyer choice or satisfaction. Sometimes this was in areas owners would never notice, like simpler bumper structures, and other times minor conveniences like vanity mirrors.
This flies in the face of the current trend in auto design where features first appear in luxury cars and inexorably move their way into expected items in budget cars: power mirrors, heated seats, etc.
Universality is one way to square the circle between keeping costs low and still providing a high feature experience. In this case, Tesla has added a feature (automatic wipers) without adding another component (dedicated rain sensor) along with its weight, cost, added manufacturing complexity and, down the road, warranty issues.
About that “neural net”
“Tesla has 780 million miles of driving data, and adds another million every 10 hours.”
So here’s a theory. If Tesla has this much data and is adding to it all the time, could they have added software that would have the car’s electronics use the Autopilot cameras to attempt to detect rain, and cross reference this with when driver’s started their wipers manually? Wait until the AI starts making decisions that reflect those made by drivers and you have your “neural net” trained and ready to run the wipers all by itself.
Are you looking for an innovative solution to a problem? Ask yourself, can a component in the existing product or system meet more than one objective?