Self-driving technology firm Waymo recently stood its ground on where it stands in the autonomous driving race. During a recent Twitter session where the company addressed some questions about its technology, Waymo agreed with the notion that its tech is “orders of magnitude more advanced than a competitor with a misleading branding.”
Waymo’s acknowledgment was a response to an inquiry from environmental engineer Carl Koinberg Henrikson. In his question to the self-driving tech company, Henrikson inquired “Would you say that your technology is orders of magnitude more advanced than the more vocal competitor with a misleading branding?” The statement, of course, seemed to be a direct reference to Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving suite, both of which have incited criticism over their branding. Waymo, for its part, responded with a simple “Yes.”
Waymo’s response, while possibly just a case of social media sass, came at a rather humorous time. Prior to its acknowledgment, after all, Waymo noted that with each location where its self-driving tech is deployed, the company must first create highly-detailed maps. This is a vastly different approach to the ones used by companies like Tesla and MobilEye, both of whom use a camera-only approach to autonomous driving.
Waymo’s self-driving cars are equipped with a suite of sensors that allow vehicles to navigate around pre-mapped roads without a driver. Just like Tesla’s electric cars, Waymo’s vehicles use radar and cameras, but unlike Tesla’s electric cars, Waymo also uses LiDAR, a technology that is vastly disliked by CEO Elon Musk. During his Autonomy Day presentation last year alone, Musk predicted that other companies pursuing full self-driving will likely shift away from LiDAR, as using the tech for autonomous driving is a fool’s errand.
Inasmuch as Elon Musk’s anti-LiDAR stance is controversial, his views on full self-driving do appear to have some serious backing. Following Autonomy Day last year alone, researchers at Cornell University noted that they were able to detect objects with comparable accuracy to LiDAR using two relatively inexpensive cameras. “The common belief is that you couldn’t make self-driving cars without LiDARs. We’ve shown, at least in principle, that it’s possible,” Kilian Weinberger, associate professor of computer science at Cornell said.
Waymo currently has about 600 vehicles in its autonomous fleet, with 400-400 of them operating in geofenced areas around Chandler, Mesa, Tempe, Gilbert, and Ahwatukee, Arizona. Tesla, for its part, has started the rollout of its limited Full Self-Driving beta, which could be used on most roads across the globe, but requires constant human supervision, at least for now.
Considering the FSD beta’s current capabilities, however, it may not be too long before Tesla’s autonomous tech becomes mainstream.