Waymo Versus Tesla Autopilot: Which Will Win

Is Waymo better than Tesla? Waymo CEO John Krafcik thinks so. He recently said that Tesla was ‘no competitor at all’ to Waymo’s system in the autonomous and semi-autonomous market. Elon Musk countered, saying Waymo is too expensive. Is that true? Let’s look at what the Waymo system has that Tesla doesn’t.

The interior of a Tesla Model 3.
Tesla Model 3 | Tesla

What is Waymo Autopilot?

Waymo’s autonomous driving system began as a Google project. It calls itself an autonomous driving company. Unlike Tesla, whose cars, SUVs (and forthcoming trucks) come equipped with Tesla Autopilot, Waymo doesn’t make its own cars. Instead, it collaborates with car companies to put its driving system into vehicles. 

Currently variations of Waymo semi-autonomous and autonomous driving systems are in Toyota Priuses, Lexus SUVs, Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans, and Jaguar I-PACEs. In Phoenix, Arizona, Waymo has instituted driverless taxis in the form of the Chrysler Pacifica. These fully automated minivans can be accessed via Google Maps. 

Waymo says that by developing autonomous driving systems, they’ll be helping to save lives. Driverless cars don’t make the same mistakes that humans do. However, the technology and capabilities to put mass amounts of driverless cars on the roads is still years away.

Currently they are working on making autonomous driving systems available in trucks, which are responsible for a little more than ten percent of all fatal crashes each year. Waymo recently partnered with J.B. Hunt to operate in Texas. 

How is Tesla Autopilot different?

While Waymo is working toward a fully autonomous driving system, Krafcik believes that Tesla isn’t headed toward the same thing. Instead, he believes that Tesla is only developing a good driver assistance program. Currently Tesla uses Tesla Autopilot, which is a semi-autonomous driving system. Tesla drivers are still supposed to keep their hands on the wheel at all times (though not all do). 

In an interview, Krafcik said that Tesla only had a “really good driver assistance system,” according to Business Insider

People in the market for a Tesla can pay an extra $10,000 for full self-driving (FSD), which despite its name doesn’t currently offer full autonomy. Musk says that he hopes one day it will. The only fully driverless option on Teslas right now is Summon. Summon allows a Tesla owner to call its car from up to 200 feet away. 

Additionally, Krafcik believes that Waymo’s sensors are better than Tesla’s. Waymo uses the same technology that most car manufacturers do: radar, lidar, and cameras. Tesla recently stopped making Model 3 and Model Y cars with radar sensors, and instead relies only on Tesla Vision. Tesla Vision uses cameras to determine whether there are objects in the path of the vehicle, and to judge distance. 

In return to Krafcik’s statements, Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk said that Waymo’s cars with autonomous driving would be too expensive, starting at $100,000. While it is possible to get a Tesla for considerably less than that at $38,000, it’s worth noting that the newly debuted Tesla Model S Plaid starts at $131,000. 

The race to full automation continues. It will be interesting to see whether Tesla or Waymo has the biggest influence on fully self-driving cars.

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