Google, moving toward market, spins off self-driving car company

The new company will be called Waymo, a name intended to suggest 'a new way forward in mobility.'

Eric Risberg/AP
A Google self-driving car is seen on display Wednesday, May 18, 2016, at Google's I/O conference in Mountain View, Calif.

Like many of Silicon Valley’s largest companies, Google’s parent company Alphabet has long been interested in creating a self-driving car. Now, the company’s self-driving car project will stand on its own two feet as tech company Waymo.

Alphabet’s decision to cut loose Waymo, which stands for “way forward in mobility,” is indicative of the industry’s interest in self-driving technology, and the seriousness with which Google views the future for expansion in the industry.

At Tuesday’s announcement, Waymo chief executive officer John Krafcik told attendees that the company is close to bringing a self-driving product to the streets.

"What you're feeling from the Waymo team is confidence that we're close to bringing this to a lot of people," Mr. Krafcik said. "We're getting close. We're getting ready. And we want to tell the world about it.”

Waymo joins a serious slate of market competitors, including Tesla, which is preparing for a fully autonomous product release sometime next year, and ride-hailing service Uber, which is testing autonomous vehicles in a number of American cities.

Despite that competition, however, Alphabet has a long history with self-driving vehicles and can boast its own unique achievements in the area.

Alphabet has conducted a significant amount of development work in the field, logging millions of miles on roadways around the country, although The New York Times reports that Waymo is Alphabet’s first real attempt at a business venture involving the technology.

“We’ve talked a lot about the two million miles we’ve driven on public roads,” Krafcik said at the event. “Now we’ve driven another million miles on public roads. We don’t talk as much about miles we put on in simulation. We’ve done over one billion miles in [simulation.] And we have taken over 10,000 trips with Googlers and guests in places like Mountain View, Austin and Phoenix.”

Officials say they hope that cutting Waymo loose from Alphabet’s research arm, Project X, will force the company to create a product and respond to market pressures more rapidly.

Business Insider reports that Waymo engineers are currently focusing on how their cars can make the riding experience more pleasant for vehicle users.

Waymo executives say that they can envision a number of practical applications for the company’s technological developments, from ride-sharing to public transport, and that they are eager to explore the opportunities.

At Tuesday’s press announcement, Waymo officials also took care to remind the press that they are running a technology company, not a car company, with CEO Krafcik saying:

“We are a self driving technology company. We’ve been really clear that we’re not a car company, although there’s sometimes some confusion on that point. We’re not in the business of making better cars. We’re in the business of making better drivers.”

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