What the Hell is Happening With Google's Autonomous Car?

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
what the hell is happening with google s autonomous car

Technology companies need to stop attempting to build cars. This is all getting too convoluted.

Despite working at it longer than anyone else, Google appeared to be pulling out of the race to be the first tech company to produce an autonomous electric vehicle — a familiar fate for those who foray into the automotive world without a surfeit of experience. Apple’s Project Titan suffered a similar fate after multiple postponements to the vehicle’s intended release, strategy disagreements, large-scale layoffs, and the loss of key leadership assigned to the self-driving vehicle’s development.

Building a car is a serious undertaking, so it isn’t surprising that Google had to throw in the towel. The only problem is that, after quitting, Google announced that it was more committed to the goal of producing an autonomous vehicle than ever before.

The Information initially reported that Alphabet CEO Larry Page and CFO Ruth Porat were believed to be behind a decision to scale the Google car project back into oblivion. Apparently, someone felt that the concept of producing an fully autonomous vehicle without a steering wheel or pedals might be a little too radical. Instead, they decided that it might be more practical to partner with traditional automakers and produce a vehicle consumers were more accustomed to.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is already building a fleet of Pacifica-based test vehicles for Google. Assuming testing is successful, those units will reportedly move ahead for commercial service.

The assumption was that the Pacifica-based vehicles would be used as driverless ride-hailing vehicles while Google helped automakers perfect their own autonomous technology — abandoning the “Google Car” project in the process.

Then it was announced that Google’s self-driving car unit will now become an entirely separate company called Waymo, operating under Alphabet Inc.’s umbrella.

“It’s an indication of the maturity of our technology,” said John Krafcik, former CEO of Google Cars and now leader of Waymo, at a San Francisco press conference. “We can imagine our self-driving tech being used in all sorts of areas.”

Alphabet is describing Waymo as “a self-driving tech company with a mission to make it safe and easy for people and things to move around.” Meanwhile, Google will stick to licensing its self-driving technology to third-party companies and quickly distance itself from a production vehicle.

“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 Krafcik.

I hate to break it to John, but venture-backed startups haven’t done so well in the automotive industry lately. The company hasn’t explained when or how it will be generating revenue and Krafcik declined to discuss Waymo’s business strategy. Despite the claim that Google is “doubling down” on its efforts to build a physical vehicle with Waymo, the timing and language used isn’t confidence-inspiring.

“We are a self-driving technology company. We’ve been really clear that we are not a car company,” Krafcik said. “We are not in the business making better cars, we are in the business of making better drivers.”

[Source: Reuters] [Image: Google]

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  • Master Baiter Master Baiter on Dec 14, 2016

    Google pursues their myriad of boondoggles because Wall Street laps it up. "...and over here we have our perpetual motion design team." "...we just opened a design center in Seattle to develop the fountain of youth." "...and here we have our crack team committed to generating unlimited energy from sea water." Google hasn't proven they can make a dime from anything other than being the yellow pages of the internet.

  • Johncarterr Johncarterr on Jul 21, 2018

    I’m not sure about the legal ramifications, but I think from a common sense and safety standpoint you would still want to wear seat belts in a moving car, as we have seen autonomous cars are not immune from getting into severe crashes e.g. another vehicle could still plow into you and airbags work better with restrained passengers. Also autonomous vehicles may still have a provision for the driver to take over if something is going wrong, in which case you still want to be sober and attentive. But I understand your perspective that autonomous vehicles can open the door to having more fun while not having to worry about driving.

  • Zerofoo "Hyundais just got better and better during the 1990s, though, and memories of those shoddy Excels faded."Never. A friend had an early 90s Hyundai Excel as his college beater. One day he decided that the last tank of gas he bought was worth more than the car. He drove it to empty and then he and his fraternity brothers pushed it into the woods and left it there.
  • Kwik_Shift There are no new Renegades for sale within my geographic circle of up to 85 kms. Looks like the artificial shortage game. They bring one in, 10 buyers line up for it, $10,000 over MSRP. Yeah. Like with a lot of new cars.
  • Ribbedroof In Oklahoma, no less!
  • Ribbedroof Have one in the shop for minor front collision repairs right now,I've seen more of these in the comments than in the 30 years I've been in collision repair.
  • Tassos And all 3 were ordered by Fisker's mother. Seriously, given Fisker's terrible record of Failure in the past, only an utter loser, (for example, VGhost or Art Vandelay?), looking for a BEV terrible enough to be a proper replacement of his 11 mile range Fiat 500E, would order one of these. (apart from Fisker's mother)