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Google's Self-driving Car Unit Becomes Waymo

Tim Maytom

waymo self-driving car
Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has spun its self-driving car unit off into its own distinct company called Waymo that will focus on bringing autonomous vehicles into reality.

Waymo will exist as a separate independent company within the Alphabet umbrella, which also includes Google and Nest, with former Hyundai North America executive John Krafcik serving as CEO of the new firm.

The spin-off follows the Waymo team's first fully driverless test on public roads in Austin last year, when a car with no steering wheel and no pedals operated in 'everyday traffic' on city streets.

The 'rider' for this first test was Steve Mahan, a legally blind friend of Nathaniel Fairfield, Waymo's principal engineer. Mahan had previously ridden in Google test vehicles while accompanied and escorted by the police, but the Austin test involved neither, and saw the car navigate narrow streets, pedestrian crossings, four-way junctions and more.

"For nearly eight years, we've been working towards a future without the tired, drink or distracted driving that contributes to 1.2m lives lost on roads every year," said Krafcik in a blog post announcing the spin-off. "Since 2009, our prototypes have spent the equivalent of 300 years of driving time on the road, and we've led the industry from a place where self-driving cars seem like science fiction to  one where city planners all over the world are designing for a self-driving future."

The announcement was accompanied by a press event, where Krafcik emphasised that Waymo would remain a self-driving car technology firm, rather than an auto manufacturer, and will be looking to partner with car makers in the future.

With Waymo now a distinct entity rather than part of Google X, the company's 'moonshot' unit, Krafcik also spoke about the business opportunities that existed in self-driving, including ride-sharing, last-mile delivery, logistics and trucking.

Waymo is currently building next generation sensor load-outs in partnership with Fiat Chrysler. A 100-car pilot project is being readied for next year, which will see Chrysler Pacificas with Waymo technology taking part in road tests, and possibly even acting as a ride-sharing service by the end of 2017.