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Waymo shelves 'self-driving' term for its technology to shore up safety

It will label its tech as "fully autonomous" to create a distinction about how the systems work.

"Self-driving" is so 2020, says Waymo.

Waymo swears it's not out to pick nits and give us all an exercise in linguistics. The fact it will no longer use the term "self-driving" when describing its technology is about education and safety, Alphabet Inc.'s division devoted to the technology said Wednesday. Going forward, Waymo will call its technology "fully autonomous" to create, what it believes, is an important distinction.

The company's argument rests entirely on how the public perceives "self-driving" as a term. Waymo points out, without naming names, that some automakers -- Tesla comes to mind -- toss the phrase around even though its technology doesn't fully drive a car on its own. Worse, Waymo said the proliferation of "self-driving" can lead to drivers taking their hands off the wheel when it's unsafe to do so. We've seen examples of this in the past few years already.

By moving move to the term "fully autonomous," Waymo hopes to lay the groundwork for standard industry terminology and help the public understand that "fully autonomous" means the car makes every decision, well, autonomously on its own accord. It also puts some space between Waymo's technology and companies that continue to brand their own systems as "self-driving." In the end, it's a bit of a branding exercise, but I think Waymo's heart is in the right place.

So, you won't be picked up in a self-driving Waymo car if the technology is ever perfected. Instead, a fully autonomous Waymo could take you to your destination.

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