Google’s parent company, Alphabet, announced today that its self-driving car project will be spinning off from its research lab X as its own stand-alone company, called “Waymo.” This decision may indicate that self-driving technology is now beyond its research stage and is ready for commercialization.
In a post on Medium, Waymo CEO John Krafcik said: “Since 2009, our prototypes have spent the equivalent of 300 years of driving simulation 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.”
Alphabet’s self-driving cars have so far driven 2.3 million miles on test drives in California, Arizona, Texas and Washington state. According to Waymo, it successfully drove through its first ride with a blind passenger on public roads last year in Austin, Texas.
“Waymo’s next step will be to let people use our vehicles to do everyday things like run errands, commute to work, or get safely home after a night on the town,” the company said.
At a press event in San Francisco this morning, Waymo demonstrated one of its “koala-shaped” self-driving cars, by allowing a legally blind man to ride the car. According to Krafcik, the technology could have various uses such as carpooling, ride-sharing services and long-haul trucking.
Tesla Motors also already has an “autopilot feature”, which can take over the driver. It is also preparing to have its cars possibly go into full-on self-driving for next year, with the intention of allowing a “ride-hailing” service, like that of Uber, on its self-driving cars. Uber itself is also already testing self-driving cars.
Waymo said that one of its main goals is to design its self-driving cars without steering wheels or pedals; so as to not confuse passengers into feeling they need to control the car. However, due to government restrictions, this may not be possible just yet.