Google made a brilliant pivot to turn around its self-driving car struggles
It's not a secret that Google has ambitions to become a hardware company.The tech giant unveiled a suite of new hardware products in the fall, like its first smartphone, the Google Pixel, and connected speaker, the Google Home.Advertisement
And now the company is taking the same approach with self-driving cars. Waymo, the self-driving car company run under Google's parent company Alphabet, announced this week that it will manufacture an entire suite of sensors in-house.
That means all the sensors that self-driving cars rely on - radar, lidar, and cameras - are all being designed and manufactured at Google where they will be integrated to work together as an entire self-driving hardware suite.In many ways, it's a brilliant move by Waymo to reclaim its position as a leader in the self-driving car space, though some lingering questions remain.
The long road to market
But slow progress on the self-driving car project prompted several executive departures. Chris Urmson, the CTO of Google's self-driving car unit before it became Waymo, left in August. He was one of several executive departures -Anthony Levandowski, a co-founder of the Google self-driving car project, left to start self-driving truck startup Otto, which is now owned by Uber.
During his time at Google, Urmson lobbied the Senate to create regulations that would allow self-driving cars without a steering wheel or pedals to drive on public roads.While all of this was going on, competition continued to mount, most notably from Uber. Uber launched a pilot program for its self-driving cars in Pittsburgh in September, and has since launched its second one in Arizona.Advertisement
But Waymo recently made a series of smart moves to avoid getting eclipsed by the competition. It decided to keep driver controls in its cars and expanded its partnership with Fiat Chrysler. Waymo will begin testing self-driving Chrysler minivans in Arizona and California by the end of January.
Waymo is also in talks with Honda about creating a fleet of self-driving cars.Couple that with Waymo's recent announcement about building self-driving tech entirely in house, you can start to see how Alphabet is becoming a serious competitor in the autonomous space again.Advertisement
Waymo says designing all of its hardware in-house has seriously slashed costs because all of the sensors are designed to work together (as opposed to combining different off-the-shelf parts to work together). So far, Waymo has reduced the price of lidar by over 90% to roughly $7,500, and said the price will continue to drop as the technology scales.Essentially, Waymo has created a self-driving ecosystem - hardware and software - that it can integrate into cars easily through partnerships with automakers. After a summer of executive departures, Waymo has made serious strides in putting together a clear path to market.Advertisement
But we will still need to wait and see if Waymo's approach will play out accordingly. Alphabet as a whole may be making moves to become more of a hardware company, but hardware has not typically been its strength.We have yet to see how well Waymo's hardware ecosystem performs with its software, as the Chrysler minivans will be the first vehicles outfitted with the system. Waymo also has yet to launch a public demo of its self-driving cars, something BMW, Volvo, and Uber will all do in 2017.Still, it looks like Waymo has a much better plan to get to market than it did just two months ago.Advertisement
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
NOW WATCH: Google's self-driving car has a huge problem
- AIIMS, Rishikesh dedicates new 100-bed ward to COVID-19 patients
- Three India returnees test positive for COVID-19 in Singapore
- Maha: NCP corporator from Pimpri Chinchwad dies of COVID-19
- Scientists strike note of caution as 'Made in India' vaccine programme gains momentum
- Goa: Doctor in charge of COVID-19 treatment returns home after 98 days