Google launches Waymo

Google has set up its self-driving car unit as its own separate entity called Waymo under the Alphabet umbrella.

During the launch event, Waymo CEO John Krafcik highlighted how the Waymo team had conducted the first fully driverless ride on public roads in Austin last year, using a car with no steering wheels and no pedals in ‘everyday traffic’ on city streets.

This historic first, fully driverless ride on public roads put Steve Mahan, a legally blind friend of Waymo principal engineer Nathaniel Fairfield, in the self-driving car solo. Mahan had ridden in Google test vehicles previously, but he was always accompanied and escorted by police. This time, he rode with neither, and the car negotiated four-way stops, pedestrians, narrow streets and more in public in Austin.

At the press event, Mahan compared the experience to being some kind of terrestrial astronaut, and called himself ‘rider 1’.

With some three million miles now driven on public roads and one billion miles covered in simulation, Krafcik told the audience, ‘We are a self-driving technology company. We’ve been really clear that we’re not a car company although there’s been some confusion on that point. We’re not in the business of making better cars. We’re in the business of making better drivers.’

Waymo is currently involved in a 100-car pilot project in partnership with Fiat Chrysler and will team up with the manufacturer for a ride-sharing service deployment, which would see semi-self-driving Pacifica vans hit the roads to carry passengers as early as the end of 2017.

The Waymo name is derived from its mission of finding ‘a new way forward in mobility’.