Google’s self-driving car project is now a new company called Waymo
By Katie Burke
This new Google company led by CEO John Krafcik, exists under the Google parent company Alphabet and will operate like a “venture-backed startup,” Krafcik said at a press event today. Waymo will be based in Mountain View, Calif., and will be responsible for developing self-driving technology and will explore opportunities in trucking, logistics and automaker partnerships.
“We are a self-driving technology company with a mission to make it safe and easy for people to move around,” Krafcik said, emphasizing that Waymo is not a car company.
Until now, the program has been part of secretive research unit Google X.
Waymo stands for "A new way forward in mobility," according to Krafcik.
The company’s first driverless car ride on public roads -- without a steering wheel or brake pedal -- happened in Austin, Texas, in October 2015, and 10,000 similar tests have since taken place.
"Waymo’s next step will be to let people use our vehicles to do everyday things like run errands, commute to work, or get safely home after a night on the town," the company said in a statement.
Krafcik added that the company is in “build phase” in its partnership with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to develop 100 self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans, outfitting the vehicles with updated sensor systems.
Waymo’s autonomous system uses radar, camera and lidar sensors, and the company is developing primarily Level 4 and Level 5 technology. Nathaniel Fairfield, Waymo’s principal software engineer, said the sensors have been able to handle rough weather conditions.
The spinoff shows Alphabet believes there is a market for these cars, but it’s still uncertain whether consumers want self-driving technology.
“The question remains whether consumers are ready for this, since most prefer at least an option to take over the driving,” said Rebecca Lindland, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book.
Google has expanded its program over the past year, hiring more engineers while doubling its testing centers from two U.S. cities to four.
Although there have been some significant departures over the past year -- Chief Technical Officer Chris Urmson left in August after leading the project from its inception -- some new hires have pointed to the program's readiness to move past its experimental stage.
In July, the project appointed its first general counsel and a month later it hired former Airbnb executive Shaun Stewart as director of the project, with a mandate to commercialize the company's self-driving technology.
Krafcik, 55, the former Hyundai Motor America CEO and longtime Ford executive, joined Google in September 2015.
Reuters also contributed to this report.