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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