Google's sister company thinks the move could save lives.
Waymo continues to be at the forefront of self-driving technology with its fleet of now-fully autonomous customized Chrysler Pacificas in Arizona. They're not your typical Pacifica, to say the least. But now Google's sister company has announced it is done using the term "self-driving cars" and will now use "more deliberate language" in its marketing and promotional campaigns. This new policy will also affect Waymo's general public educational policy as phrases like "Let's Talk Self-Driving" will now become "Let's Talk Autonomous Driving."
"It may seem like a small change, but it's an important one because precision in language matters and could save lives," the company wrote in a just-published 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."
But why is Waymo making this change right now? The likely answer is because of Tesla, which is currently in the final beta testing phase for its "Full Self-Driving" apparatus. Needless to say, this has been a source of controversy. Even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been monitoring Tesla's testing procedures very closely. Tesla's use of the phrase "Full Self-Driving" isn't accurate as the system still requires drivers to have both hands on the wheel as a backup.
Simply put, the system is intended to assist the driver, not completely take over all vehicle functions. There has been similar controversy surrounding Tesla's Autopilot.
There have been numerous accidents over the past few years involving Tesla drivers who activated Autopilot and treated it as fully autonomous. It's not and never has been. In fact, a few years ago Waymo considered developing a highly advanced driver-assist system like Tesla's Autopilot's FSD feature but opted not to because it was concerned drivers would not pay attention and misuse the system.
This decision also created an opportunity for Waymo: only full autonomous driving will do. Nothing in between.