Waymo, Google’s self-driving car project officially changes lanes from research project to business enterprise that, at some point soon, will have to turn a profit.
“We’ll continue to have access of infrastructure and resources Alphabet provides, but we also have this feeling of being a venture-backed startup,” said John Krafcik, formerly CEO of Google Cars and now leader of Waymo, said at an event here Tuesday
Krafcik said “we are all in on fully driverless solutions, that’s what we’re all about.” He said driver assist technologies, which often ask humans to take back control of the car, don’t interest Waymo. But the car might still have steering wheels and pedals, even if the vehicle is fully capable of driving itself.
There were no details provided on Waymo’s business plan, although the mission is to bring the company’s technology to market and monetize it via a partnership with an automotive company.
Google has been working on self-driving cars for the past eight years. The team was under the Google X “moonshot” division, and largely was a research and development effort. But as more technology companies and automakers have stepped up their own self-driving car efforts over the past year, the pressure grew for Google to steer its autonomous project toward being a commercial enterprise.
Last spring, Google inked a deal with Fiat Chrysler to outfit 100 Pacifica minivans with Google’s radar, lasers and cameras. Google had said the deal was made to quickly add to its fleet in order to further test its systems and ready them for commercial use.
“We’re in the build phase right now, so the next generation of our sensors will go into those Pacificas and they’ll be on the road in the very near future,” said Krafcik.
Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for Autotrader, said Waymo reiterating that plans to be a tech supplier could help accelerate a self-driving future.
“Google focusing on the software and the technology for self-driving vehicles make more sense, since that is its expertise, than trying to be a full-fledged automaker,” said Krebs. “By supplying its technology to others, Google has the opportunity to proliferate self-driving vehicles in a way many others cannot.”
Krafcik played a video at an event here, which was webcast to other U.S. locations, that showcased a Google prototype car giving a ride.
in the fall of 2015 to a blind passenger in Austin. There was no steering wheel or pedals in the car.
“I’m a legally blind American, and there are millions of people like me,” said Steve Mahan, the man who has helped Google test its driverless technology over the past years. “I dreamed of being an astronaut as a kid. I had no idea that by 50 I’d be blind, and even the standard family car would no longer be available to me.”
Mahan said that being part of the Google car testing program has made him feel “very empowered, in five minutes you’re perfectly at home inside them.”