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Google redefines its autonomous car strategy with Waymo

Thursday 12 January 2017

After a couple of quiet months, Alphabet’s self-driving car project is moving out of the X research lab, gaining a brand and becoming an independent business. The new company is named Waymo and will sit alongside other fledgling business including Fiber, Nest and Verily within Alphabet.


While this is not an unexpected move, it is quite a significant one. In recent months, Google’s self-driving team has been quite quiet and has shrunken into the shadows as other giants have been strong-arming the industry.


It is unsure what Waymo’s business model would be, and the date for commercial availability of its technology. There are a number of options for how the company could proceed, ranging from putting its software into existing cars, as well as building its own vehicles from scratch, and options in between. There are options to consider about whether to sell vehicles for consumers to own, against a subscription model of shared ownership. Nevertheless, Waymo’s focus is on fully autonomous projects (so-called level four or five).


The company is also changing its strategy, instead of pursuing a solo approach and aiming to introduce futuristic bubble cars, a report by The Information suggests Waymo will work with automakers to develop more conventional autonomous cars.


Waymo will instead double down on projects carried out in collaboration with automakers, the Information claims. In particular, it will turn its attention to an ongoing project with Fiat Chrysler to build autonomous hybrid Pacifica minivans. The vehicles may even be used in a robotic taxi scheme, an idea that the company is reportedly exploring for launch in 2017.


At the same time, Honda is in formal discussions with the company to integrate self-driving sensors, software and computing into its vehicles. If the two reach an agreement Honda’s R&D team will work closely with Waymo engineers in the US, which could see modified versions of the Japanese company’s vehicles added to Waymo’s test fleet of driverless cars.


Waymo’s fleet is currently testing driverless technology across the US and has clocked-up over 2 million miles of autonomous driving since the first journey was completed under the Google brand in October 2015.


In related news, Google revamped Project Brillo, an operating system for the Internet of Things (IoT) unveiled in 2015, into Android Things, which it describes as a comprehensive way to build IoT products with the power of Android.


Google said it incorporated feedback from Project Brillo to include tools such as Android Studio, the Android Software Development Kit, Google Play Services and Google Cloud Platform. IoT communications platform Weave will also be updated to make it easier for all types of devices to connect to the cloud and interact with services including Google Assistant.


Qualcomm already announced plans to add support for Android Things in its Snapdragon processors. The company said it anticipates Android Things running on Snapdragon processors will offer developers familiar connectivity environments including cellular, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radio access, as well as camera, graphics, multimedia and rich user interface capabilities.