In what appears to be yet another dig at Tesla, Waymo today said it will no longer use the term “self-driving” to describe its vehicles. The Alphabet subsidiary will instead refer to its work as “fully autonomous driving technology.”
According to Waymo, this isn’t just a matter of terminology. It said it will use more “deliberate language” because it “could save lives.”
“It may seem like a small change, but it’s an important one, because precision in language matters and could save lives,” Waymo wrote on its blog. “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. Regardless of who or what is at the helm, safely operating a vehicle on public roads requires careful execution of all the elements of the driving task.”
Waymo doesn’t mention a specific company in that statement, but it is clearly referring to Tesla and its Full Self-Driving (FSD) beta software. Not only is the name of the system very misleading, Tesla has a disclaimer on its website that says the $8,000 system doesn’t make the vehicles autonomous and human drivers still have to supervise it.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said FSD is capable of “zero intervention drives.” While that has proved to be true in certain scenarios, it’s not the case 100% of the time or merely most of the time. Within hours of the software being released in October, videos surfaced of FSD-equipped Teslas swerving around parked cars and turning into on-coming traffic, for example. Tesla’s FSD will improve with time, but at the moment its capabilities are nowhere near full self driving.
Misusing terminology is nothing new for Tesla. When its Autopilot feature first came out, industry experts complained about the same deceptive, misleading marketing tactics. There have been several high-profile incidents of crashes caused by Autopilot, a couple of people have even died.
Waymo is part of an industry coalition that criticized Tesla when it released FSD. The coalition, which also includes Cruise, Ford, Uber and others, said FSD-equipped Teslas are not truly autonomous because they still require active drivers.
Waymo also recently said it doesn’t view Tesla as a competitor. “Our key technology is the driver, that’s the most important point, that’s what we’re here for,” Waymo CEO John Krafick in the video above. “We’re not a car company, so we really don’t see Tesla as a competitor, rather we see Tesla and other car companies working primarily in this driver assist area.”
Waymo and Tesla are absolutely competitors when its comes to self-driving, err, fully autonomous driving technology. They take very different approaches – LiDAR vs. cameras, for example – but the end goal is the same. Pretend we’re 10-20 years into the future, or however long its takes fully autonomous vehicles to be available at scale worldwide. Pretend you’re a fleet operator looking to purchase your next vehicle. You could buy vehicles powered by Waymo’s technology or Teslas using Tesla’s technology. You could take a ride in a Waymo robotaxi or a Tesla robotaxi. You could have goods delivered via a Waymo autonomous truck or a Tesla autonomous truck.
Waymo knows Tesla is a competitor. Waymo is ahead at the moment, as it recently expanded its fully driverless robotaxi service in the Phoenix area. Perhaps taking digs, of the subtle and not-so-subtle variety, at a “non-competitor” shows what company Waymo is worried about most.