Waymo, in an apparent dig at Tesla, drops the term ‘self-driving’ from its vocabulary

Waymo took a shot at Tesla in a Wednesday blog post. Horacio Villalobos – Corbis/Getty Images
  • Waymo, Alphabet’s autonomous-driving company, said it will drop the term “self-driving” from its marketing and educational materials Wednesday.
  • The firm appears to be distancing its technology from Tesla’s “full self-driving” feature, a $US10,000 option that does not provide full autonomy and has been criticised for being misleading.
  • “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,” Waymo said.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Waymo, the autonomous-vehicle startup founded in 2009 as the Google Self-Driving Car Project, is officially dropping the term “self-driving” from its vocabulary.

The firm, which became a Google sister company under the Alphabet umbrella in 2016, said it would move to using “more deliberate language” to describe its tech, which it will now call “autonomous driving.”

Although Waymo didn’t mention Tesla directly, the change in terminology can be seen as a dig at Elon Musk’s electric-vehicle maker, which has taken heat for offering a $US10,000 feature that purports to provide “full self-driving capability.”

“It may seem like a small change, but it’s an important one, because precision in language matters and could save lives,” Waymo said in a Wednesday blog post. “We’re hopeful that consistency will help differentiate the fully autonomous technology Waymo is developing from driver-assist technologies (sometimes erroneously referred to as ‘self-driving’ technologies) that require oversight from licensed human drivers for safe operation.”

Tesla has not released the “full self-driving” feature to the public yet, but rolled out a beta version to some owners last fall. Early video clips shared online depicted drivers intervening at the last minute to avoid crashing into parked cars and barricades, showing that the software — despite its marketing — still has a long way to go before it will require anything less than full driver attention.

Read more:
Google paid a star self-driving engineer $US120 million. Then he quit, joined a rival, and headed to prison.

The company says that both “full self-driving” and the more limited driver-assistance system, called Autopilot, require drivers to keep their hands on the wheel at all times. Still, there have been numerous instances where Tesla’s driver-assistance software has been blamed for crashes involving inattentive drivers.

Waymo appears to be referencing those types of incidents in Wednesday’s blog post, echoing concerns from experts, politicians, and regulatory bodies that Tesla’s marketing is misleading and could have disastrous consequences. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration maintains that “no vehicle available for purchase today is capable of driving itself.”

“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,” Waymo said. “That false impression can lead someone to unknowingly take risks (like taking their hands off the steering wheel) that could jeopardize not only their own safety but the safety of people around them.”

The company said it would rename its “Let’s Talk Self-Driving” public education campaign to “Let’s Talk Autonomous Driving.”

But there isn’t a consensus regarding how companies should best describe their automated-driving technologies, and many experts take issue with the Society of Automotive Engineers’ five-tiered system that’s the current global standard.

For all the hype Tesla CEO Musk has created around the company’s automated-driving ambitions, it has repeatedly come up short on aggressive goals for the rollout of its “full self-driving” technology. Musk said that Tesla would introduce a fleet of robotaxis to streets in 2020, but that did not materialise.

Waymo, meanwhile, opened its driverless ride-sharing service to the general public in Phoenix last October.