Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Beta may be improving at a rapid pace since its first iteration was released back in October, but Waymo CEO John Krafcik seems to be under the impression that there is a ceiling for the electric car maker’s current autonomous driving efforts. In an interview with German business publication manager magazin, Krafcik stated that Tesla is not a competitor to Waymo, as the EV maker’s tech is just a “really good driver assistance system.”
Waymo’s vehicles, which are equipped with a variety of sensors including LiDAR, are designed to be operated without a human driver. The company has even requested its passengers to not touch its autonomous cars’ steering wheel while the vehicles are operating. In comparison, Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Beta, as well as the company’s tech Navigate on Autopilot, still requires drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel to prepare for manual intervention.
Tesla aims to develop a full self-driving suite through a vision-based system that relies on incremental improvements that are rolled out over time. Through constant updates that are built on real-world driving data gathered from its fleet, Tesla hopes to roll out a version of its FSD suite that would truly be a hands-off system. Once this is achieved, the EV maker aims to launch its own ride-hailing service, dubbed by Elon Musk as the Robotaxi Network.
This, according to the Waymo CEO, is a misconception. He also remarked that between Tesla’s camera-based approach and Waymo’s more robust sensor suite, his company’s sensors hold a massive advantage over Tesla’s electric cars. “It is a misconception that you can just keep developing a driver assistance system until one day you can magically leap to a fully autonomous driving system. In terms of robustness and accuracy, for example, our sensors are orders of magnitude better than what we see on the road from other manufacturers,” Krafcik said.
One of the notable arguments against Waymo’s autonomous vehicles is their cost, especially considering that their sensor suite includes expensive components. The CEO, however, notes that the cost of its vehicles is actually overestimated, especially as the price of sensors such as LiDAR has gotten significantly lower over the years. Today, Krafcik notes that the cost of a Waymo autonomous car is on the same ballpark as a moderately-equipped Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
“Let me paraphrase it like this: If we equip a Chrysler Pacifica Van or a Jaguar I-Pace with our sensors and computers, it costs no more than a moderately equipped Mercedes S-Class. So for the entire package, including the car – today. The costs for the technology are greatly overestimated – at least in our case” he said.
Krafcik noted that he expects the hardware cost per mile of Waymo’s autonomous vehicles to come in at around $0.30 per mile before maintenance and service costs, including fleet technicians and customer support representatives. In comparison, ride-hailing services today such as Uber and Lyft operate at around $2-$3 per mile. Tesla, on the other hand, expects an $0.18 per mile operating cost for its Robotaxi Network, as per the company’s estimates during its Autonomy Day presentation in 2019.
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