Just as the term ‘horseless carriage’ helped people better understand this new technology at the advent of the automobile, it takes the same time to find the right terms with other technologies. It is the same with driverless cars, robocars, robotic cars, self-driving, automated and autonomous cars. We are talking about the same technology here, but the terms seem to imply otherwise.
Now Waymo, the clear technology leader has announced that from now on it will only use the term ‘autonomous driving’ for this technology. The website ‘Let’s Talk Self-Driving‘ has been renamed ‘Let’s Talk Autonomous Driving‘ with this in mind. And Waymo is justifying it, too:
This past year, we explored the importance of language and how terms like “self-driving car” inaccurately describe what autonomous driving companies, like Waymo, are building. Waymo’s vehicles don’t drive themselves. Rather, Waymo is automating the task of driving and thus the term “autonomous driving” is more accurate. The conflation of terms used to describe vastly different technology — such as advanced driver assist systems and autonomous driving technology — is referred to as and has serious implications for road safety. We find people consistently overestimate the capabilities of driver-assisted features.
As more people join the global conversation about autonomous driving technology, our mission of educating the public becomes even more important, and sticking to accurate language is a demonstration of our commitment to getting this right.
And then Waymo also makes it clear where the dangers already lie with misleading designations:
Fully autonomous driving technology is designed so that a human driver does not take over the maneuverability of a vehicle. You do not need a license to take a ride in a vehicle with autonomous driving technology, and your hands never need to touch a steering wheel.
Some personally owned vehicles on the road today, which may be described or marketed as self-driving or semi-autonomous, depend on a human driver to take control at any moment. Research finds that human drivers operating vehicles that have been marketed as self-driving may not realize the importance of being constantly vigilant and become over-reliant on assistive features.
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This article was also published in German.