Putting an end to a moderate swirl of speculation, Google has announced that it is spinning its self-driving car unit out of its experimental Google X division into a separate company called Waymo.
Waymo, which by the way stands for “Way Forward in Mobility”, will be helmed by former Hyundai executive John Krafcik and exist under the corporate umbrella of Alphabet, which technically owns Google. The goal is ostensibly to make Waymo a profitable member of the growing Alphabet family of companies, meaning it will likely try to commercialize its technology and bring Level 4 or 5 autonomy to market. Until that point, it will consider itself a “venture backed startup”, the Waymo CEO announced at a press conference.
“We’re a self-driving car company with a mission to make it safe and easy for people and things to get around,” says Krafcik, according to Wired which reports that ridesharing, trucking, logistics, personal vehicles were all mentioned as commercial possibilities for Waymo.
The move is seen as an aggressive, yet belated push into the increasingly crowded self-driving car market. Uber, Tesla, Baidu, Ford, and GM, among others, have all promised commercially viable self-driving cars at various points in the coming decade.
In the short term Waymo’s cars will feature steering wheels and brakes due to federal regulations though it disagrees with them. As Krafcik puts it, “We dont think the human should be asked to monitor the self-driving system. As it turns out… it is a requirement to have those controls.”
For now, there’s plenty of work left to be done in creating a more comfortable passenger experience, improving mapping technology, and ensuring that self-driving cars can successfully navigate inclement weather and adverse road conditions.