Google to spin off autonomous car unit as Waymo | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 13.12.2016
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Google to spin off autonomous car unit as Waymo

Google will be spinning off its self-driving car project into a standalone business called Waymo, which stands for "a new way forward in mobility" and aims to make the US company a serious player in the auto industry.

Waymo was intended to make it "safe and easy for people and things to move around," John Krafcik, the chief executive of Alphabet Inc.'s car project said at a press conference in San Francisco on Tuesday.

"We will continue to have access to infrastructure and resources Alphabet provides, but in this new world as Waymo we also have this feeling like we are a venture backed startup," he added.

At the moment, the self-driving car unit of Google's parent company Alphabet is still housed in Google X, another Alphabet company. But Krafcik told reporters that the founding of the new company was an indication of the maturity of Google's technology.

"We can imagine our self-driving technology being used in lots of different areas - ride-sharing business, in transportation, trucking, logistics, even personal use vehicles and licensing with automakers," Krafcik said.

Long road to progress

In 2015, Google's autonomous car division completed its first test program with fully self-driving cars on public roads in Austin, Texas, putting a blind passenger in the front seat of a steering-wheel-less car. Since then, its cars have driven over 2 million miles (3.2 million kilometers), with testing now focusing on the trickiest scenarios faced by cars on surface streets.

Over the past year, it has expanded the program, hiring more engineers while doubling its testing centers from two US cities to four.

On Tuesday, Krafcik reiterated that the company's goal was creating a Level 4 or Level 5 autonomous vehicle. But the "fully driverless" system may still come with a steering wheel and brake pedals, as was required by regulators. But Krafcik added that an autonomous car with zero human intervention would remain the company's goal.

Mounting rivals

Waymo, which means "way forward in mobility," marks a crucial step for Google as it faces increasing competition from ride-hailing company Uber, which is also developing self-driving cars.

In addition, US tech giant Apple has devoted huge funding from its $200-billion (188-billion-euro) cash reserves to the technology, as well as a number of the world's biggest carmakers.

Therefore, Google teamed up with Fiat Chrysler in May, which is integrating the self-driving technology in its minivans. The alliance allowed Fiat Chrysler to avoid the major research costs in developing its own autonomous program, and let Google better understand how to refine its systems for use in regular production cars.

uhe/jd (Reuters, dpa, AP)

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