The Self-Driving Industry Looks Unwell, Waymo Layoffs Begin
Alphabet subsidiary Waymo has reportedly leaned into layoffs and everyone is wondering whether this is an offshoot of the 12,000 job cuts being made at Google or indicative that self-driving tech has run itself into a brick wall. While there’s certainly a wealth of evidence that autonomous vehicles have progressed more slowly than the industry would have had us believe a decade earlier, Waymo has arguably made some of the biggest strides in the industry.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t also been high-profile incidents that would leave one doubting the viability of self-driving cars. But the company has one of the most ambitious and successful pilot programs for autonomous vehicles to date.
According to Automotive News, several dozen Waymo employees have recently announced their layoffs over LinkedIn – suggesting that they’re the tip of the iceberg. Lost positions are not isolated to any single job title either. Waymo has reportedly cut staff from marketing teams, engineering departments, fleet maintenance, system integration, and just about every other department imaginable. Though it's hardly like this was a problem exclusive to any singular company.
In perhaps signs of an uneven AV business landscape, recruiters and friends pointed the freshly unemployed Waymo veterans to active openings at self-driving tech companies such as Cruise, Gatik, Kodiak Robotics, Motional and Outrider.
Motional itself conducted an undisclosed number of layoffs in November. Waymo's reductions come three months after a key robotaxi competitor, Argo AI, entirely shuttered operations. Argo was a joint venture between Ford Motor Co. and Volkswagen Group.
Despite the layoffs, the company's goals for 2023 remain unaffected, according to the spokesperson. But plans for its Via autonomous trucking unit have been pushed back. Waymo has never publicly outlined a specific time frame for commercially deploying its Class 8 tractor trailers without humans aboard. Nonetheless, the internal timeline has been "slightly" delayed, the spokesperson said.
It’s worth noting that tech companies are hemorrhaging staff across the board right now. Many investors have become skeptical about some of the promises made by these companies and the hectic economic landscape hasn’t helped things. Automakers have also been quietly (and sometimes not-so-quietly) reducing staff for years now, with rolling layoffs (some of which were temporary) really kicking off after restrictive health policies were put into place after 2020.
Waymo has said its passenger-carrying commercial service ( done without human drivers) will continue in Phoenix, Arizona, and remain its central focus as it helps develop better self-driving systems. The company also plans on expanding use for larger vehicles spending the brunt of its time on the highway via collaborative projects it already has with companies like UPS and J.B. Hunt.
We'll keep digging into the issue to see just how many people Waymo has lost and anticipate an update in the coming days. As things currently stand, it sounds like the self-driving arm has taken quite the hit but it's presently wrapped up in the broader Google layoffs.
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