Google’s “little koala car” car has left the tree: The company announced on Tuesday it has moved its self-driving car project out of its famed “X” division, where long-shot ideas are pursued, and into its own company called Waymo (as in “a new way forward in mobility”) under the Alphabet corporate umbrella.
This is good news for anybody who wants another option to one day travel in an autonomous car. Google was way ahead of the current market (it started the project in 2009) in testing, but its progress — despite reliably published monthly reports — seemed to come slower as companies like Uber, nuTononmy, Tesla, and Ford brought their versions of autonomy to the streets.
It’s not that Google was moving slowly behind closed doors. Tuesday’s announcement made clear that the world’s first-ever fully autonomous trip without a test driver was made back on October 20, 2015 (read this lovely Wired story about it). More recently, the company says its autonomous cars traveled a billion miles in the last year in simulation mode and some 2 million miles in real-world driving. It’s reasonable to believe that the first autonomous trip around Austin back then was a use of technology that’s beyond what Uber is testing very publicly right now on the streets of Pittsburgh.
“One of our next steps will be to let people use fully self-driving cars to do everyday things like run errands or commute to work,” the company announced on Tuesday. “Over the long term we believe self-driving cars will be useful in ways the world has yet to imagine. Waymo will explore many different opportunities for self-driving technology.”
Waymo has the same CEO as the old company, John Krafcik, and the move was in the forecast this past summer.