Google Tuesday announced, via its parent company Alphabet, that its self-driving car unit is being spun off from its “semi-secret R&D facility” Google X into a new entity called Waymo.
This is a momentous decision for Alphabet because it shows that one of its Other Bets is actually ready to leave the nest and start earning its own keep. Until now, Other Bets has only acted as an incubation unit of sorts, exploring diverse technologies and futuristic possibilities but never coming close to being profitable.
The primary reason for that was the lack of financial pressure to perform. Any losses coming from Other Bets was easily absorbed by Google’s massive profitability it its core segment of online advertising.
Now, with Waymo being separate from Google but still under the Alphabet umbrella of companies, there will be pressure on the company to start showing some results. But the runway is wide open now, with Michigan taking the first step in allowing driverless cars on its roads – not for testing, but real-world deployment.
Autonomous driving technology is starting to ramp up around the world, with nearly every well-known automobile brand, technology company and component manufacturer trying to outdo each other in the race to truly driverless vehicles.
Competition for Waymo will be fierce, to say the least. John Krafcik, chief executive of Waymo, says that there could be applications in ride-sharing services or long-haul trucking, but no clear plans have been laid out for the newly formed company. But there are already other market leaders vying the autonomous ride-sharing car space, such as Tesla and Uber.
Tesla already has a partially autonomous driving system called Autopilot that allows drivers to take a break on long highway stretches, and Uber has been testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh for the past few months.
As such, it isn’t enough the Google’s self-driving car project has a new name. It will need to find some new energy to compete in the market with aggressive companies like Uber and Tesla. And with Apple, General Motors, Ford and several other automakers also eyeing this market, Waymo has to have way more than it does at the moment in order to stand a chance in what will quickly become a cut-throat market segment for automobiles.
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