Google isn’t wasting much time validating rumors that it’s shaking up its self-driving car efforts. The internet giant is spinning out its self-driving project as a new company, Waymo, with current division head (and Hyundai veteran) John Krafcik as its CEO. It’ll still have access to the resources of Google’s parent company Alphabet, but it’ll act more as a “venture backed startup,” Krafcik said in a press conference. Appropriately, there’s much more talk of turning autonomous vehicle tech into a practical business.
Waymo sees its technology applying to numerous areas, including ridesharing, trucking and personally-owned cars. It could also be licensed out to car manufacturers, Krafcik adds. Also, there’s an emphasis on real-world improvements, such as a more comfortable (that is, less jarring) experience for passengers and support for driving in heavy rain and other harsh road conditions.
The move isn’t exactly a shock — there have been rumors of Google spinning out its self-driving division for roughly a year. Still, it’s an important step. It’s an acknowledgment that driverless tech has matured to the point where building a sustainable business around it isn’t just fantasy. Also, it’s no secret that Alphabet wants to see a better return on investment from its many experiments. The creation of Waymo should light a fire under the self-driving team, giving it a stronger incentive to make money and show that its research has tangible benefits.