SAN FRANCISCO — Google’s self-driving car project is now its own company called Waymo, led by CEO John Krafcik.

The company exists under Google parent company Alphabet and will operate like a “venture-backed startup,” Krafcik said at a press event today. Waymo will be based in Mountain View, Calif., and will be responsible for developing self-driving technology and will explore opportunities in trucking, logistics and automaker partnerships.

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“We are a self-driving technology company with a mission to make it safe and easy for people to move around,” Krafcik said, emphasizing that Waymo is not a car company.

Until now, the program has been part of secretive research unit Google X. Waymo stands for “A new way forward in mobility,” according to Krafcik.

The company’s first driverless ride on public roads — without a steering wheel or brake pedal — happened in Austin, Texas, in October 2015, and 10,000 similar tests have since taken place.

“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 in a statement.

Krafcik added that the company is in “build phase” in its partnership with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to develop 100 self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans, outfitting the vehicles with updated sensor systems.

Waymo’s autonomous system uses radar, camera and lidar sensors, and the company is developing primarily Level 4 and Level 5 technology. Nathaniel Fairfield, Waymo’s principal software engineer, said the sensors have been able to handle rough weather conditions.

The spinoff shows Alphabet believes there is a market for these cars, but it’s still uncertain whether consumers want self-driving technology.

“The question remains whether consumers are ready for this, since most prefer at least an option to take over the driving,” said Rebecca Lindland, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book.

More engineers

Google has expanded its program over the past year, hiring more engineers while doubling its testing centers from two U.S. cities to four.

Although there have been some significant departures over the past year — Chief Technical Officer Chris Urmson left in August after leading the project from its inception — some new hires have pointed to the program’s readiness to move past its experimental stage.

In July, the project appointed its first general counsel and a month later it hired former Airbnb executive Shaun Stewart as director of the project, with a mandate to commercialize the company’s self-driving technology.

Krafcik, 55, the former Hyundai Motor America CEO and longtime Ford executive, joined Google in September 2015.

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With fully self-driving technology, you’ll be able to get where you want to go at the push of a button—without the need for a person at the wheel.

Imagine if everyone could get around easily and safely, without tired, drunk or distracted driving. Time spent commuting could be time spent doing what you want to do.

2 million miles self-driven
Since we started at Google in 2009, we’ve accumulated the equivalent of over 300 years of human driving experience, largely on city streets. That’s on top of 1 billion simulated miles we drove just in 2016.

We continue to test and learn on real city streets across four locations in the US. We plan to bring fully self-driving cars to the world soon.

We’re building a safer driver that is always alert and never distracted.

Our fully self-driving technology will handle all the driving so you can go from door to door without taking the wheel. This will deliver the biggest impact on improving road safety and mobility for everyone.

How it works
Our vehicles have sensors and software that are designed to detect pedestrians, cyclists, vehicles, road work and more from a distance of up to two football fields away in all directions.


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