The language we use is important, even when talking about robocars.

That became apparent last week when the Associated Press updated its style guide
to avoid the term ?semi-autonomous? for systems like Tesla?sAutopilot
[], General Motor?s?Super Cruise, and Nissan?s
ProPilot Assist.

Instead, the style guide suggests those systems should be labeled as ?partially?
automated or as an advanced driving assistant. The thinking follows that calling
Autopilot (already criticized for its?misleading name) semi-autonomous makes it
seem like the car can drive on its own. But it always requires a human driver
behind the wheel and paying attention ? that?s something even Tesla emphasizes.

Just this week inTaiwan, a Tesla reportedly driving on Autopilot
[] with a driver didn?t respond to an overturned truck on the highway, and the car
drove straight into the truck. A self-driving system is expected to handle a
situation like this on its own. But a partially automated system like Autopilot
puts the onus on the driver to snap to attention when the software doesn?t
figure out what to do in time.

A General Motor?s spokesperson said its Super Cruise system is referred to ?as a
driver assistance feature.? It?s available on certain GM vehicles that allow for
hands-free driving on certain stretches of highway across the U.S. and Canada.
It monitors drivers with eye-tracking cameras to make sure they?re paying
attention even when their hands are off the wheel.

Nissan?s lead tech engineer for Intelligent Transportation Systems said in an
email that its ProPILOT Assist system is ?fundamentally a driver-assist system?
and that by ?framing the feature as an assistant, a support feature, or an aid ?
an individual doesn?t confuse their role as the driver or think the
system/feature is ?driving? the vehicle.? This aligns with the new guidance.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment on the terminology change.

During aPartners for Automated Vehicle Education
[](or PAVE) autonomous
vehicle safety coalition webinar Wednesday, Aurora CEO Chris Urmson touched on
the importance of how self-driving tech is branded. His Amazon-backed company is
creating a self-driving system calledAurora Driver
[]that can be used in any vehicle.

?There?s incredibly useful, technologically brilliant driver assistance systems
that ? have been branded with words that generate some confusion around whether
they are an assistant or actually driving for you,? he started. ?Driver
assistance is great, it?s important, and it will save lives and will make
driving tremendously easier for people. But it?s different than automated
vehicles or self-driving vehicles.?

Our labels matter.

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