Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets Drops "Self-Driving" Term Because of Tesla Taint

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Every high school movie I know has that cool kid who is brash, extremely self-confident, and doesn't shy away from bragging about himself every once in a while, either. More often than not, he's also the school team's quarterback or something.
At the start of the film, everyone wants to be like him - or at least around him, but as the action unfolds, his true nature starts to creep through the carefully built façade, and all of a sudden, he's not so popular anymore. In fact, the same people that were once flocking to be at his side are now keeping their distance, making sure everyone can see they don't support his actions.

The latest development in the autonomous vehicle (AV) industry feels like a similar move, though everything has to be done in a much more courteous way here than how things would unfold in the schoolyard. For one thing, the jock equivalent can't exactly be named, but that doesn't mean they're any more difficult to identify: like the Big Bang, you just need to look for the epicenter that everyone is walking away from.

In this case, the point of divergence is the "self-driving" term. Back in 2016, a collective of carmakers, tech companies, and ride-sharing firms got together and formed what was then named the "Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets" - a name that, as far as we're concerned, has three issues: it's cheesy, a bit too long, and doesn't generate a memorable acronym (try saying SDCSS the moment you wake up in the morning or after a few glasses of wine).

The founding fathers of SDCSS (it's still better than writing its full name, I guess) are Ford, Lyft, Uber, Volvo, and Waymo, so five of the biggest and most respectable names in the business. Since its creation, the coalition has also welcomed a few other slightly less famous companies: Argo AI, Aurora, Cruise, Embark, Kodiak, Motional, Navya, Nuro, TuSimple, and Zoox.

Now, though, this conglomerate of businesses has decided to change its name from "Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets" to "Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association". Shorter, more technical, more to the point, and with a vastly improved acronym - AVIA - so a win all around.

However, the main reason behind this change - rebranding is never a decision to be taken lightly, especially after so many years of activity under a certain name - was to distance the group not from the idea of "self-driving" (because autonomous vehicles do indeed drive themselves after all) but from the term itself. Why? Well, they obviously don't mention Tesla, but it's Tesla.

"The new name aligns with the members’ commitment to precision and consistency in how the industry, policymakers, journalists, and the public talk about autonomous driving technology," the press release reads. "The association recently called on all stakeholders to clearly distinguish between AVs and driver-assist to boost consumer trust and understanding."

The same trust that's been partially shattered by Tesla using "self-driving" as part of the name of its advanced driver's assistance system that keeps making a mockery of the whole autonomous vehicle idea. People who watch the FSD Beta in action have every right to say they don't want anything to do with this technology and, by extension, with anything related to "self-driving".

AVIA goes on to make another clear distinction that separates its goals from Tesla's. The group "advocates for autonomous vehicles, which perform the entire driving task. AVs do not require human operators, not even to serve as a backup driver; the people or packages in the vehicle are just passengers or freight."

When you look at things this way - and you should - the fact we won't have autonomous vehicles on the roads in the hands of private owners over the next few years becomes crystal clear. However, if you tune in on Musk FM, you might hear Level 4 is coming this year. The question is, who to believe?

Well, on the one hand, you have a group of companies who are going about their business quietly and responsibly, who don't talk about unrealistically optimistic deadlines, and who don't choose to hide behind a disclaimer while they risk the lives of their customers and those of other road users; on the other, there is a company led by someone who has consistently inflated the capabilities of its advanced driver's assistance system (ADAS) in the public's eyes while at the same time admitting to the authorities it won't be anything other than a Level 2 system for the foreseeable future. Add the fact a large part of Tesla's current valuation is based on the success of its Autopilot/FSD Beta features, and you can see why keeping up the charade is so important for the EV maker.

It's good to see more and more entities (people, companies, government agencies) taking a stance against treating the development of AVs too lightly, and this latest move from AVIA is a very good step in the right direction. Now let's just hope Tesla doesn't put its trolling hat on and releases a feature called "Autonomous Vehicle Mode" or AVIA will soon run out of feasible words for its name.
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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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