December 13, 2016 Last Updated 1:16 pm

Google spins off its car company, introduces Waymo

There is more than one way for a tech company to launch a new product division. One way is to keep everything internal, under wraps, and top secret. That would be the Apple way, and if the product is a hit, well, you get the iPhone. If it isn’t, and right away, the product goes away, and so does the division. Right now, the rumor is that the idea of building a physical car at Apple is dead.

Another way to do this would be to do some R&D, build a prototype, then spin off the project. That is, apparently, what Google is doing. Today they have taken the wraps off of Waymo, a new company, one that can attract investors, as well as keep much of the risk away from the parent. Waymo, though a new company, will be placed under the Alphabet umbrella.

“For nearly eight years, we’ve been working towards a future without the tired, drunk or distracted driving that contributes to 1.2 million lives lost on roads every year,” said John Krafcik, CEO of Google’s Self-Driving Car Project. “Since 2009, our prototypes have spent the equivalent of 300 years of driving time on the road and we’ve led the industry from a place where self-driving cars seem like science fiction to one where city planners all over the world are designing for a self-driven future.”

The timing of this may be right. We are entering a period of time where pharmaceuticals may be able to bring drugs to market without FDA approval, thanks to the new administration. What better time to launch a self-driving car company?

Yes, we may be entering a period of anarchy, and we all can understand what that means for public safety. Still, as someone who was once the publisher of two magazines that dealt with Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), I can tell you from direct experience that one of the things that engineers had in the back of their minds was that eventually they might run into government oversight that could hold their projects back. Bigly, as a certain someone might say.

“Waymo may be a new company, but we’re building on advanced self-driving technology developed over many years at Google,” Krafcik, now Waymo CEO, said in introducing the company. “On October 20, 2015, we completed the world’s first fully-self driven car ride. Steve Mahan rode alone in one of our prototype vehicles, cruising through Austin’s suburbs. Steve is legally blind, so our sensors and software were his chauffeur. His route reflected the way millions of people could use a self-driving car in everyday life: riding from a park to a doctor’s office and through typical neighborhoods.”

“This ride was possible because our cars can now handle the most difficult driving tasks, such as detecting and responding to emergency vehicles, mastering multi-lane four-way stops, and anticipating what unpredictable humans will do on the road. We’ve honed these skills over 2 million miles of real-world driving, and in the last year alone we’ve completed one billion miles of testing in simulation.”

I have to wonder what others in this field are thinking – not only Apple, but Tesla. Things may begin to move fast now, much faster than when I move to acquire ITS World from Advanstar back in 1998.

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