Waymo — Google’s Self-Driving Division Spins Off (Within Alphabet Umbrella)

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Google’s (Alphabet’s) self-driving vehicle division has become its own independent company, known as Waymo, those in charge revealed at a recent press conference. The move to become an independent company is accompanied by refocusing the initiative a bit as well. It is now going to focus more narrowly on developing the self-driving tech rather than an actual “Google car.”

2017-chrysler-pacifica-plug-in-hybrid-minivanThe idea is, apparently, to deepen ties with existing auto manufacturers and install itself as a provider of self-driving tech solutions. Notably, the Google/Alphabet self-driving team has already been working with Fiat-Chrysler for some time. (There are some indications that the two may be unveiling a self-driving, all-electric concept version of the Chrysler Pacifica at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in January.)

This matches with a recent report from Bloomberg that said that Waymo and Fiat-Chrysler would be working on the development of a ridesharing service that will utilize semi-self-driving Pacifica vans. That report claimed that this service could begin as soon as late 2017.

With regard to the recent press conference, Waymo CEO John Krafcik stated: “We’re now an independent company within the Alphabet umbrella. … We are a self driving technology company. We’ve been really clear that we’re not a car company although there’s been some confusion on that point. We’re not in the business of making better cars. We’re in the business of making better drivers.”

Continuing: “We can imagine this (technology) in ridesharing, in transportation, trucking, logistics even personal use vehicles and licensing with automakers, public transport and solving the last mile. Self driving technology is awesome in all these categories.”

For those wondering, the name “Waymo” is intended to imply “a new way forward in mobility.”

Tech Crunch provides more, detailing the firm’s first fully autonomous trip last year in Austin (Texas): “This historic first, fully driverless ride on public roads put Steve Mahan, a legally blind friend of Waymo principal engineer Nathaniel Fairfield, in the self-driving car solo. Mahan had ridden in Google test vehicles previously, but he was always accompanied and escorted by police. This time, he rode with neither, and the car negotiated four-way stops, pedestrians, narrow streets, and more in public in Austin.”

In conjunction with this, Krafcik noted: “We’ve talked a lot about the 2 million miles we’ve driven on public roads. Now we’ve driven another million miles on public roads. We don’t talk as much about miles we put on in simulation. We’ve done over 1 billion miles in simulation. … And we have taken over 10,000 trips with Googlers and guests in places like Mountain View, Austin, and Phoenix.”

With regard to what remains to be done before full commercialization, Waymo’s head of tech, Dmitri Dolgov, stated that work was underway to make rides “smoother,” maps better, and navigation more accurate with regard to potential problem weather such as snow and heavy rain.

Very interesting news. We should get a much better idea of what’s in store at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January. It seems very likely that the all-electric Chrysler Pacifica concept to be shown at the event will feature self-driving capability.

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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