Hot on the heels of a report that Google is abandoning the idea of a standalone self-driving car in order to partner with existing automakers and focus on ride-sharing, we finally know what the tech giant wants to do: it’s spinning off that unit into a separate company called Waymo. Waymo! Here’s what Waymo’s gonna do.
The move was announced in San Francisco by Waymo’s new CEO John Krafcik, the former Hyundai North America executive turned project leader. After eight years and some 2 million driven miles, Wired reports this moves the program out of Google’s “X” moonshot division to being a standalone company under the larger Alphabet umbrella. This means the goal is finally to commercialize this technology, which as we reported earlier this year, Google had yet to do.
What does that mean now? Well, we don’t know yet exactly. From the story:
“We’re a self-driving car company with a mission to make it safe and easy for people and things to get around,” says Waymo CEO John Krafcik. What that means, exactly, is still an open question: Krafcik mentioned ridesharing, trucking, logistics, even selling personal use vehicles to individual consumers.
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Tech Crunch reports Waymo is at least in the “build phase” with Fiat Chrysler for the road testing of 100 autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans. So there’s that, to start.
The Wired story also notes that this year, Google’s car project was under immense pressure to put up or shut up, basically. And this year, several veterans left the project unexpectedly. This move seems to finally be the attempt to make that commercialization happen.
Pushing Waymo into the real world is something of a catchup move for Google. The company once dominated the conversation about autonomy, insisting it was possible years before most companies took it seriously. But lately, that preeminence has faded. In the past year, Uber, Tesla, Baidu, Ford, and General Motors have announced aggressive plans to bring fully self-driving cars to market, with launch dates ranging from next year to 2021. Meanwhile, pressure to prove Google’s X projects could deliver on their promises mounted within the company, and a series of executives abandoned Google’s project, including longtime technical lead Chris Urmson, who was reportedly unhappy with Krafcik’s leadership.
Initially Google seemed intent on developing its own autonomous cars without steering wheels or pedals, which its famous koala-pod cars famously lacked. But like a lot of tech giants over the past year or so—from Faraday Future to Apple—Google realized that the overhead involved with building cars is massive and that it’s fucking hard, which is why not everyone is doing it. Increasingly the tech company turned its eyes toward partnering with established automakers and other entities instead.
We’ll update as we learn more, but in 2017, get used to hearing about what Waymo’s up to. Waymo!