For years, Google has been at the forefront of self-driving car technology, even designing its own adorably curvy, steering wheel-free vehicle in 2014. Yesterday, Google’s parent company Alphabet announced it would be spinning off the Self-Driving Car Project into a new independent company, Waymo, while underscoring that they have no intention of becoming a car manufacturer.
"We’re not in the business of making better cars, we’re in the business of making better drivers,” said Waymo CEO John Krafcik. “We’re a self-driving technology company.”
Rather than design and manufacture its own autonomous vehicles, Waymo will partner with traditional carmakers to bring the technology into the commercial sphere. Fiat Chrysler is already working with Alphabet to create a fleet of 100 self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans that could function as part of a ride-sharing service operated by Waymo. Bloomberg reported that the service could launch as soon as late 2017.
In a statement to Curbed, David Strickland, general counsel for the Self-Driving Coalition (which Google is a part of) says:
Google’s Self-Driving Car Project was founded back in 2009 to improve safety and mobility. Their testing fleet has included Prius hybrids, Lexus SUVs, Chrysler minivans and their own prototype vehicles. Waymo’s mission as a self-driving technology company is the logical, exciting continuation of that original project and their dedication to self-driving as a safe and easy way for people to get around.
But not everyone has been happy with changes at Waymo. A number of high-profile employees including “car guru” Chris Urmson left the company earlier this year. Urmson is reportedly starting his own competing autonomous driving venture.
The race for commercially viable driverless cars sure is heating up. Over the summer, Ford announced that they’d have autonomous vehicles on the streets by 2021, and Uber is also dedicating $300 million to deploying a self-driving car on a similar timeline.