Tesla Autopilot vs. Waymo: Which is Best?


Tesla Autopilot vs. Waymo: Which is Best?

Self-driving cars have been in the works for some time now, yet there are still no fully self-driving cars available to the public. Several companies are currently developing and testing self-driving cars, and two of the most prominent are Tesla and Waymo.

Tesla and Waymo are developing autonomous vehicles. Yet, they are doing it differently. Many believe that Waymo is better than Tesla because of the technology and testing they have done since Tesla does not use lidar technology. However, there are some proponents who think Tesla is the way forward.

In order to declare which company is paving the way forward for self-driving cars, it is important to understand how both are approaching the subject. Read on to discover all you need to know about Tesla Autopilot, Waymo, and how they compare.

Tesla Autopilot and Waymo

Tesla Autopilot and Waymo are two of the biggest names that come to mind when thinking of self-driving cars. Over the past decade, both have been in discussions about a car that can fully drive itself. However, a fully autonomous vehicle still has not been rolled out.

It is easy to wonder which company is paving the way forward when it comes to autonomous vehicles. Tesla Autopilot, which now comes on all its new models, does not use the same technology as Waymo. Waymo, which is owned by Google, does not have its own line of cars. Rather, it is paired up with automobile companies to implement its technology in them.

Self-driving cars are measured on a scale that has five levels. For a vehicle to be considered a truly self-driving car, it needs to reach level five. Of course, a vehicle with zero automation would not factor on this scale. The levels are as follows.

  • Level 1. The first level of autonomy is when the car only does some minor things to assist the driver. The driver, however, is still in full control of the car.
  • Level 2. The second level is partially automated. It can most likely do at least two duties at once, such as acceleration and steering. However, the driver still needs to be alert and be ready to take over at any time.
  • Level 3. The third level of autonomy is when the vehicle can drive itself, but it can only do so in certain conditions. The driver still needs to be alert most of the time, though it will not be as much as in previous levels.
  • Level 4. This fourth level is considered “high automation,” and it means that the vehicle can drive itself almost all the time. It can do most functions by itself, though the driver still will need to take control in certain environments.
  • Level 5. Level 5 is when a vehicle is considered truly self-driving because the driver never needs to perform any task. The vehicle will be able to travel from point A to point B entirely on its own.

Quickly looking at the levels of autonomy for cars can tell a lot about the progress of each company. Consider this: Tesla Autopilot is currently considered a level 2 system, whereas Waymos is considered a level 4 system. That fact alone is enough to show how far along Waymo is compared with Tesla. However, understanding the two systems is important, too.

What You Need to Know About Tesla Autopilot

Tesla Autopilot has been around for a few years, and many people are familiar with it because of its association with Elon Musk. Tesla Autopilot is a driving assistance technology that is now preloaded onto all new Tesla models. Before, it would have to be added by the owner.

One of the biggest factors that people focus on when it comes to Tesla Autopilot is how it operates. It is important to remember that there are dozens of companies all trying to develop self-driving cars. All of them use roughly the same technology, except Tesla.

All those companies use lidar technology to make them work. Tesla does not use this technology, and Tesla has consistently avoided and refused to use it. What is lidar? Lidar is a form of radar that uses light to create a visual map of the surrounding area. The technology itself has been around for decades, but recently it has found its greatest use in self-driving cars.

Yet, Tesla Autopilot does not use it. Elon Musk does not think it is the way forward. If lidar is not the way forward, then what does Tesla Autopilot use?

  • Cameras. The main tools that Tesla Autopilot uses to operate are cameras placed around the perimeter of the car. These cameras can “see” all around the car. Since it is not using radar, the visual information has much more detail.
  • Ultrasonic sensors. Tesla Autopilot also uses sensors around the car. These sensors are beneficial for knowing when the vehicle is near something else.
  • Vision (Tesla’s computer system). The computer system that is installed in a Tesla vehicle is called Vision, and it is the computer that reads the information sent to it from the cameras and sensors and then communicates with the vehicle so that it knows what to do.

These three components work together to create the Autopilot system.

Tesla Autopilot’s Functionality

Tesla Autopilot is considered a level 2 self-driving car. This is because it is not truly self-driving. Consider the fact that the driver must have their hands on the steering wheel at all times as they are driving. They need to remain alert during the entire duration of the car ride.

Tesla still has a long way to go before they can reach a level 5 (which no company has done yet). However, this brings up the question about the Tesla autopilot’s functionality. What can it do if it is a level 2 vehicle? Consider some of these features of the Tesla Autopilot.

  • Cruise control. Tesla Autopilot can accelerate and decelerate based on the traffic that you are in. If the traffic begins to move faster, the Autopilot system will accommodate this change.
  • Steering. There is a feature with Autopilot called “Autosteer.” This function helps the car steer in its lane. However, the autosteer function is not capable of steering entirely on its own. The driver must be involved.
  • Navigation. Tesla is testing out its navigation system with the Tesla Autopilot. This function lets the car navigate and change routes so that you are taking the best route to get to your destination.
  • Lane Changes. Tesla Autopilot can make lane changes when it is safe to do so, though the driver must be fully alert.
  • Intersections/traffic lights. Tesla Autopilot can detect when an intersection is approaching and will automatically slow down. If the driver does nothing, the car will come to a stop at the intersection. The driver, however, can override the braking if the light is green.

Tesla Autopilot, despite its low-level ranking, can still do a lot. Other features are also implemented into the system, such as the ability to park itself. Nevertheless, some wonder if the absence of lidar technology is hindering Tesla’s ability to progress forward.

Tesla, however, disagrees that its refusal to use lidar has any bearing on its progression. The idea is that the cameras can “see” closer to how a human sees, thereby creating the perfect A.I.

What You Need to Know About Waymo

Waymo has been around slightly longer than the Tesla Autopilot. In fact, Waymo is the company that put into practice the world’s first driverless car ride. That was in 2015, and they have been working on their self-driving cars since 2009. Therefore, it is no surprise that they have a higher level rating than Tesla.

Since Waymo has reached a level 4 rating, they have phased out calling its vehicles a “self-driving” car and have opted for using the term “autonomous vehicle.” This shows their dedication to creating a level 5 vehicle, which is their main goal. Currently, drivers using Waymo do not need to have their hands on the wheel, which makes it feel closer to being fully autonomous than Tesla Autopilot.

So, how does Waymo create autonomous vehicles that are at a higher level than Tesla Autopilot? While Tesla Autopilot uses mainly cameras (having gotten rid of radar altogether recently), Waymo uses lidar.

  • Lidar. Lidar uses lasers that bounce off objects and return information to an onboard computer that then analyzes that information to create a map of the surrounding area.
  • Radar. Radar uses sound to create its map. Paired with lidar, this can create a much fuller, detailed map.
  • Sensors. As with Tesla, Waymo vehicles use sensors that help detect when objects are near, such as a guide rail.

It is also important to note that Waymo partners with existing car manufacturers to implement their technology. Though Waymo does run its own driverless taxi service, which they are going to expand in the future.

Lidar can be expensive, which is one of the reasons why Tesla avoids it. However, Waymo cuts costs by making all its own technology that the company can then implement into each of its vehicles. They have developed their own lidar technology known as the “Laser Bear Honeycomb.”

What Is the Laser Bear Honeycomb?

The Laser Bear Honeycomb is Waymo’s own lidar technology. It looks like a large honeycomb, which is where it gets its name from. This piece of technology is part of what separates Waymo from other companies that use lidar.

Consider how other lidar systems only have about 30 degrees of vertical field of vision. The Laser Bear Honeycomb, by contrast, has 95 degrees. Moreover, the Laser Bear Honeycomb also has 360 degrees of horizontal field of vision, but it does not use as many sensors as competitors.

This system they have created allows the system to see objects both close to the vehicle and up to about 300 meters away. The system creates a 3D rendering of the areas, and the car will act accordingly.

While lidar has some pitfalls, it is still relied upon by every self-driving car company except Tesla.

Tesla Autopilot Compared with Waymo

Now that you know a bit more about how each company creates its self-driving car, it is time to compare the two head-on. This will showcase the differences between them and illuminate which one is better.

Tesla AutopilotWaymo
Tesla Autopilot is a level 2 self-driving technology. This means that the driver must have their hands on the wheel at all times and is in control most of the time.Waymo is a level 4 self-driving technology. This means they are closer to achieving a fully autonomous vehicle than Tesla.
Tesla Autopilot only comes with Tesla vehicles. Tesla now includes Autopilot with all new Tesla models.Waymo is implemented in various car brands, such as Volvo, Chrysler, and Nissan.
Tesla Autopilot does not have a taxi service that can pick up passengers.Waymo operates a driverless taxi service. They can do this because they are a level 4 self-driving car.
Tesla relies solely on cameras and its computer system called “Vision” to have its cars autonomous. They no longer use radar.Waymo uses lidar and radar and sensors, along with cameras, to have its vehicles autonomous.
Tesla is an automotive company that specializes in electric vehicles. They have also developed their own solar energy system for houses.Waymo is owned by Google and by its parent company Alphabet. Waymo, therefore, has a lot of experience with A.I.
Tesla makes a lot of claims about its progress, but often, its promises are not followed through on or there are inconsistencies with the rollout of new features.Waymo has been slowly progressing forward over the previous decade, and, as a result, has reached level 4 whereas Tesla is still at level 2.
Drivers who use Tesla Autopilot need to have their hands on the wheel at all times in all conditions. Therefore, Autopilot is more of a driver assistance technology.Drivers who use Waymo do not need to have their hands on the wheel. Furthermore, while they do need to be alert in some instances, they do not need to remain so.
Since drivers who use Tesla Autopilot need to be fully alert, there is no control panel with safety features.Waymo vehicles have a control panel for passengers. This is a safety feature that has features such as: Call for help, pull over, and lock the car.
Tesla’s cameras deliver a lot more visual information, which can help with identifying hazards properly.Lidar can leave blind spots in its visual renderings. For example, it cannot tell the difference between a paper bag and a large rock. This can cause safety issues.

When comparing them side-by-side, it creates a fuller picture of the two companies. These two companies have openly made comments about each other. They are each other’s biggest competitors, and they are two of the companies at the forefront of self-driving cars.

Is Waymo Ahead of Tesla?

It is logical to wonder if Waymo is ahead of Tesla. The answer depends on who you listen to. However, many agree that Waymo is ahead of Tesla in more ways than one.

For example, they have already progressed beyond what Tesla has done. At a base level, one only needs to look at the autonomy level of their technology to see which company is farther along at achieving full autonomy. Since Waymo is a level 4, they are ahead of Tesla Autopilot.

Moreover, Waymo can implement its technology into several automobile brands, which gives them an edge in the marketplace since Tesla can only implement Autopilot into its own vehicles. According to many, Waymo is ahead of Tesla in several ways, including:

  • The capability of their technology. It is considered that Waymo’s technology has more capabilities than Tesla, and this is due to how autonomous their technology is.
  • The marketing of their technology. Waymo is owned by Google, so marketing is a huge part of their strategy. Remember, Waymos has a driverless taxi service.
  • The production strategy they implement. Waymo’s production strategy is considered better than Tesla, though Tesla is implementing different technology and progressing with its Autopilot system.
  • The reliability of their technology. Waymo’s technology is considered more reliable, though they have fewer vehicles being tested in the real world.

Tesla is the only company that does not use lidar technology to power its autonomous vehicles. Waymo, conversely, manufactures its own lidar technology that is, in many ways, superior to what its competitors are using. However, since Tesla is gambling on cameras as the way forward, it could just take a longer time to fully implement it in a way that is equal to Waymo.

Conclusion

To decide which is better, Tesla Autopilot or Waymo, comes down to how they are progressing in their quest to develop a fully autonomous vehicle. Tesla is completely against the idea of using lidar, labeling it a handicap. Yet, Waymo uses lidar technology and has progressed much farther than the Tesla Autopilot.

However, Tesla may seem as though they are behind Waymo because they are using different technology. While all companies developing self-driving cars have fallen short of their goals, they are all still progressing. Tesla is testing cameras exclusively.

Currently, it would be said that Waymo is better than Tesla, but this does not mean it cannot change. As time passes, Tesla will continue to develop their camera and computer system, which one day may surpass all the competition.

Greg

Hi, I'm Greg. My daily driver is a Tesla Model 3 Performance. I've learned a ton about Teslas from hands-on experience and this is the site where I share everything I've learned.

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