Alex Roy’s Glossary of BS in Mobility, Self-Driving and Autonomy (Winter 2019/2020)

There’s a lot of bull out there. Here are some new words to help you understand it.

byAlex Roy| UPDATED Jun 29, 2020 8:55 AM
Alex Roy’s Glossary of BS in Mobility, Self-Driving and Autonomy (Winter 2019/2020)

The scope of mobility-industry clickbait is so massive these days, all the wine at a Pagani owners meet isn't enough to make sense of it. Consider the transportation sector, in which publicists compete to unleash ever more BS words on an overwhelmed public. How best to counter the daily storm of nonsense and exaggeration? The way I do it every year—with a glossary for the ages.

Here goes:

AUTONOWASHING (verb): The practice of making unverified or misleading claims that misrepresent the appropriate level of human supervision required by a semi-automated product, service, or technology.

The most obvious culprits are the Tesla fans who refer to Tesla Autopilot—without a doubt the best driver-assistance system available today—as self-driving or autonomous. It isn't. The concept of autonomy is totally binary: a vehicle is either capable of driving itself without human supervision, or it isn't. If it requires any human supervision, it's not autonomous. It's not even semi-autonomous. It's semi-automated. If you're confused, think of it this way. The word "autonomy" means "freedom," as in free to choose. One is either free, or one isn't. A vehicle is either autonomous, or it isn't.

Other guilty parties include companies whose high-profile public demonstrations of autonomous vehicles lead to headlines like "Self-Driving Truck Drives Cross Country," but fail to mention the human safety driver on board.

(Mobility expert Liza Dixon

is the Godmother of the "autonowashing" term, and wow is it relevant today. If you see it used and don't credit her, you're as guilty as all the jerks stealing Tom Goodwin's most famous statement on innovation.)

BIKELASH (noun): Any negative or hostile reaction to cyclists, especially from motorists or law enforcement.

As a car enthusiast who frequently bikes in New York City, I'm keenly aware there are a lot of really bad drivers out there. Because I bike, when I drive I am super vigilant about biker safety. Yes, sometimes bikers—especially those famous NYC bike messengers—seem to dart out of nowhere, but I find those messengers to be among the best riders I've ever seen. Yet there is a subculture of lazy and/or unskilled drivers who appear to resent bikers altogether. These people place all blame on cyclists for anything that goes wrong, and resent or oppose any effort to make streets safer for riders.

You don't need to be a rocket scientist to know that protected bike lanes are a good thing.

Bikelash is baked into the very language of the media. When a cyclist is killed by a human driving a car, the human driver is often obscured, or left out of the story altogether. A headline that reads, "Cyclist Killed by Truck," for example, reinforces a perception that the biker bears some responsibility for the accident, if not all of it. Over time, it absolves drivers of responsibility for cyclist fatalities, which undermines any impetus to build safer infrastructure, which is where we are today. Bikelash leads to insane local hearings where people actually argue against protected bike lines on behalf of "drivers rights."

Driving is a privilege, not a right. If you can't drive safely around bikers, you shouldn't be driving.

BOEING (verb): To destroy a trusted brand through a series of cost-cutting and profit-seeking measures, the sum of which sacrifices quality to the point of self-immolation. See, 737 MAX.

CADILLACKING (verb): To develop a class-leading technology, then bury it in a product no one buys.

This is inspired by what Cadillac did to their excellent first-generation Super Cruise driver-assistance system. In some ways, Super Cruise was superior to Tesla Autopilot, but it was only available in the under-loved CT6, and suboptimally marketed. The GM team that designed the system deserved better. Super Cruise should have been an option, if not standard equipment, on every Cadillac sold. That mistake is being rectified, though it might be too late.

CANNONBULLING (verb): To claim a Cannonball Run driving record cross-country with no evidence.

If you want to claim a Cannonball Run record, show some GPS evidence, or better yet, bring a camera crew and a plane and make a movie about it. [Ok, fine. You can mention your movie -- Ed.]

ELECTROWASHING (verb): To refer to hybrid vehicles as "electrified" in order to conflate hybridization with full electrification.

Great hybrid vehicles that combine electric motors with an internal combustion engine have been available for decades. Great electric vehicles? Not so much. Now that Tesla has made electrification a household term, cynical marketers from traditional OEMs are trying to get people into showrooms by calling hybrids "electrified," which—however accurate—is truly cynical. The worst offenders? Manufacturers who announce that their entire lineup will be "electrified" by a certain date—say, 2025—when at best it may be fully hybridized, with only a few electric vehicles. Come on guys.

FULL-SELFING (verb): To suggest that Tesla "Full Self Driving" is "full" anything.

According to the SAE, "full automation" —also known as Level 4 automation—doesn't require human supervision under certain conditions. As of right now, Teslas sold with full self-driving capability still require human supervision under all conditions. Until a Tesla is capable of driving itself without human supervision, it isn't full self anything. No matter how well Tesla's Autopilot driver-assistance system works, it's still a Level 2 semi-automated system. Don't be full-selfed.

HISTOVATION (verb): To market old technology as new or innovative.

If you have to ask, just check out this "new" product:

A fun example of Histovation is every tweet from Elon Musk about building tunnels to alleviate traffic, and in fact the Boring Company's existence itself. Tunnels aren't new. We've had cars moving on fixed tracks through tunnels—aka subways—for 100+ years.

LIDARING (verb): To work for an autonomous vehicle company that claims Lidar isn't necessary, while privately admitting Lidar is essential.

NOTONOMOUS CAR/VEHICLE (noun): Any vehicle that requires any human supervision from the driver's seat while inside its Operational Design Domain (ODD).

The opposite of autonomous. Do you have to sit in the driver's seat and supervise your car while any form of automation is engaged? Your vehicle is NOTONOMOUS.

SAFETY DRESSING (noun): Any person hired to give the appearance that safety matters.

The revolving door of former government agency officials joining the private sector is so old as to be a cliche. What DO we expect former government officials to do? Retire on their modest government salaries? But one thing has changed recently: Safety became necessary. Not cool, not sexy. Necessary. Why? The tragic death of Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Arizona—the first person ever killed by an autonomous test vehicle—made safety matter. Government employees who spent years working on safety at NHTSA, NTSB and the DOT can now count on plush seats at any number of autonomous vehicle companies.

Heavyweight intellectuals like former NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind (now Zoox) actually bring serious gravitas to the issue, but what about the rest? Time will tell...


The practice of staging and/or falsifying abuse of Tesla driver-assistance technologies.

Tesla deserves some grief for the word games Elon Musk likes to play around "Autopilot" and the "Full Self-Driving" capability the company offers for $7,000. But he doesn't deserve to be victimized by scammers who stage videos of Tesla owners falling asleep while using Autopilot. Newsflash: Tesla Autopilot requires the driver periodically "check in" via a tug on the steering wheel. I've heard people say the longest interval between check-ins is 30 seconds. On my Model 3, in ideal conditions, I've observed 24 seconds. The majority of those videos of sleeping Tesla drivers cruising down the highway for minutes at a time? Fake. Unless they're using an idiotic device like this one.

THINKFLUENCER (noun): A person claiming expertise, specializing in public speaking, who keeps getting hired to keynote events despite their predictions being largely wrong.

LinkedIn is filled with Thinkfluencers. You can spot them by their bios, which invariably include the terms/phrases: innovator, pirate, evangelist, speaker, keynote, expert, radical, etc. These folks crib from actual experts, who don't use the word "expert" in their bios, and deliver much less value for their time.

VIRTUE SIGNALING (verb): To purchase a Tesla and claim one is "supporting the cause" and helping the environment.

I drive a Tesla and love it, but I have no illusions. If I wanted to minimize my impact on the environment, I wouldn't have bought a car at all. I'd only ride bikes and take the train. Buying a Tesla might be a more environmentally conscious decision than buying an internal-combustion car over its lifespan, but it's a lot less optimal than the best mode of all: walking, which is the truest virtue signaling of all.

VICE SIGNALING (verb): To purchase the Performance upgrade on any Tesla.

There is no rational reason to purchase the Performance version of any Tesla. They're more expensive and have less range than the Long Range versions. They exist for two reasons: they're as awesome as they are unnecessary, and Tesla makes more money on them.

Did I miss some terms from 2019? If so, please share in the comments.

(NOTE: This opinion piece reflects the author's personal opinions, and does not represent the views of any organization.)

Alex Roy is founder of the Human Driving Association, editor-at-large at The Drive, host of the the No Parking and Autonocast podcasts, Director of Special Operations at Argo.AI, co-host of /DRIVE on NBC Sports, author of The Driver, and Producer of APEX: The Secret Race Across America. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.