Waymo, a unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc., is saying good-bye to ‘self-driving’—not the technology, just the term.
In a blog post Wednesday, the company announced it would now be using the phrase ‘autonomous driving’ to avoid confusion that could lead a driver to take their hands off the wheel at a dangerous moment.
‘It may seem like a small change, but it’s an important one,’ the company said in a blog post, ‘because precision in language matters and could save lives.’
But industry insiders believe the change is a jab at Elon Musk‘s Tesla, which began touting its ‘full self-driving’ (FSD) option last fall – but is only capable of assisting drivers.
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Waymo announced it will no longer use the term ‘self-driving’ in favor of ‘autonomous driving,’ to avoid confusion. Some see the move as throwing shade on Tesla’s fully self-driving (FSD) system, rolled out in October
Waymo has also renamed its four-year-old public education campaign from ‘Let’s Talk Self Driving’ to ‘Let’s Talk Autonomous Driving.’
The point, the firm said, is to educate the public on the difference between its ‘fully autonomous’ system and driver-assist technology that still needs a human driver.
‘Unfortunately, we see that some automakers use the term ‘self-driving’ in an inaccurate way, giving consumers and the general public a false impression of the capabilities of driver assist (not fully autonomous) technology,’ the company said.
The blog post didn’t call out those automakers, but Tesla began offering a $10,000 ‘full self-driving’ (FSD) upgrade for some models in October and some critics believe Musk’s firm is the cause of Waymo’s change.
Waymo says ‘some automakers’ are using the phrase ‘self-driving’ when referring to advanced driver-assist technology. ‘Precision in language matters and could save lives,’ it said
Industry insiders believe the change is a jab at Elon Musk’s Tesla, which began touting its ‘full self-driving’ (FSD) option last fall – but is only capable of assisting drivers
FSD is billed as an ‘advanced driver assistance system’ that uses external cameras, radar, ultrasonic sensors and an onboard computer to steer, change lanes, park, navigate on and off highways, and slow and stop at traffic lights.
In a New Year’s Day tweet, Tesla CEO Elon Musk promised that in 2021, FSD ‘work at a safety level well above that of the average driver this year.’
Enthusiasts have already ridden a Model 3 from Los Angeles to Silicon Valley without touching the wheel.
The system is still in beta, though, and critics complain Musk is overselling the system’s capabilities.
‘While no Tesla cars are fully autonomous today and require active driver supervision, the FSD Computer is capable of delivering intelligent performance and control to enable a new level of safety and autonomy, without impacting cost or range,’ reads a message on the Tesla support website.
A Tesla Model 3 Performance outfitted with the company’s full self-driving FSD system made drove unassisted from Los Angeles to Silicon Valley. But critics complain Tesla CEO Elon Musk is overselling its capabilities
The US Department of Transportation has no definition for ‘self-driving,’ instead using a five-point scale of vehicle automation that ranges from Level One — a small amount of control, such as adaptive braking if a car gets too close — to Level Five — full automation, where the system can handle all weather, light and traffic conditions anywhere with no human intervention.
By industry standards, Level Four — where a car can drive itself in a predetermined zone, but not in all areas and conditions — is where ‘self-driving’ begins, according to CNN.
Though Musk has dismissed Waymo’s autonomous-driving technology as a ‘highly specialized solution,’ the company is seen as the industry leader by many.
In 2020, the company raised raised $3.2 billion and expanded its partnership with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to add light commercial vehicles, including an autonomous delivery van.
In October, it opened the first autonomous ride-hailing service to the public in Phoenix, Arizona.
Last month, the company announced plans for a facility near Columbus, Ohio, that would simulate dense, urban areas and a variety of weather conditions.
It will also allow Waymo to experiment with autonomous heavy-duty trucks.
The new site will open some time this year at the Transportation Research Center in East Liberty, a $45 million testing ground for self-driving vehicles that includes terrain and structures replicating rural roads, city streets and high-speed intersections.