As controversy swirls around the death of a Model X driver last month, the head of Alphabet Inc.'s self-driving car unit is drawing distinctions between his company's technology and Tesla Inc.'s Autopilot.
Wei Huang, 38, died March 23 when his crossover using the driver-assistance system Autopilot collided with a highway barrier in Mountain View, Calif., and caught fire. Computer logs recovered from the vehicle showed he didn't have his hands on the steering wheel for six seconds before the crash, according to a Tesla blog post.
Autopilot isn't comparable to the fully self-driving technology Waymo has been developing for a decade, John Krafcik, the CEO of the former Google driverless car unit, said in an interview. Tesla's system requires the human driver to remain alert and regularly put a hand on the wheel, while Waymo has been developing technology that requires no human input. Waymo's tech is already in Chrysler minivans and on the road in pilot testing, with a paid robotaxi service coming later this year.
"Tesla has driver-assist technology and that's very different from our approach," Krafcik said last week, before Tesla revealed that Autopilot was engaged during the Model X crash. "If there's an accident in a Tesla, the human in the driver's seat is ultimately responsible for paying attention. We don't know what happened here, but there was no self-driving."
A Tesla spokesman didn't immediately comment. The National Transportation Safety Board is looking into all aspects of the Model X crash, including reports that the driver had previously raised concerns about Autopilot.