|Predecessor||Google Self-Driving Car Project|
Number of employees
Waymo LLC, formerly known as the Google Self-Driving Car Project, is an American autonomous driving technology company. It is headquartered in Mountain View, California. It is a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc.
Waymo operates commercial robotaxi services in Phoenix, Arizona and San Francisco, CA. In October 2020, it became the first robotaxi service to offer service to the public without safety drivers in the vehicle.
Waymo is run by co-CEOs Tekedra Mawakana and Dmitri Dolgov. The company raised $5.5 billion in multiple outside funding rounds. Waymo has partnerships with multiple vehicle manufacturers, including Stellantis, Mercedes-Benz Group AG, Lyft, AutoNation, Avis, Intel, Jaguar Land Rover, and Volvo.
Google's development of self-driving technology began on January 17, 2009, at Google X lab, run by co-founder Sergey Brin. The project was launched at Google by Sebastian Thrun, the former director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL) and Anthony Levandowski, founder of 510 Systems and Anthony's Robots.
The initial software code and AI design of the effort started before the team worked at Google, when Thrun and 15 engineers, including Dmitri Dolgov, Mike Montemerlo, Hendrik Dahlkamp, Sven Strohband, and David Stavens, built Stanley and Junior, Stanford's entries in the 2005 and 2007 DARPA Challenges. Later, aspects of this technology were used in a digital mapping project for SAIL called VueTool. In 2007, Google acqui-hired the entire VueTool team to help advance Google's Street View technology.
In February 2008, a Discovery Channel producer for the documentary series Prototype This! called Levandowski. The producer requested to borrow Levandowski's Ghost Rider, the autonomous two-wheeled motocycle Levandowski's Berkeley team had built for the 2004 DARPA Grand Challenge that he had later donated to the Smithsonian. Since the motorcycle was not available, Levandowski offered to retrofit a Toyota Prius as a self-driving pizza delivery car for the show.
As a Google employee, Levandowski asked Larry Page and Thrun whether Google was interested in participating in the show. Both declined, citing liability issues. However, they authorized Levandowski to move forward with the project, as long as it was not associated with Google. Within weeks Levandowski founded Anthony's Robots to do so. He retrofitted the car with light detection and ranging technology (LiDAR), sensors, and cameras. The Stanford team (Stanley (vehicle)) provided its code base to the project. The ensuing episode depicting Pribot delivering pizza across the San Francisco Bay Bridge under police escort aired in December 2008.
The project success led Google to greenlight Google's self-driving car program in January 2009. In 2011, Google acquired 510 Systems, co-founded alongside Pierre-Yves Droz and Andrew Schultz, and Anthony's Robots for an estimated $20 million.. Levandowski's vehicle and hardware, and Stanford's AI technology and software, became the nucleus of the project.
Starting in 2010, lawmakers in various states expressed concerns over how to regulate autonomous vehicles. A related Nevada law went into effect on March 1, 2012. Google had been lobbying for such laws. A modified Prius was licensed by the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in May 2012. The car was "driven" by Chris Urmson with Anthony Levandowski in the passenger seat. This was the first US license for a self-driven car.
In January 2014 Google was granted a patent for an advertising fee funded transportation service that included autonomous vehicles as a transport method. In late May, Google revealed an autonomous prototype, which had no steering wheel, gas pedal, or brake pedal. In December, they unveiled its Firefly prototype that they planned to test on San Francisco Bay Area roads beginning in early 2015.
In 2015 Levandowski left the project. In August 2015, Google hired former Hyundai Motor executive, John Krafcik, as CEO. In fall 2015, Google provided "the world's first fully driverless ride on public roads" to a legally blind friend of principal engineer Nathaniel Fairfield. The ride was taken by Steve Mahan, former CEO of the Santa Clara Valley Blind Center, in Austin, Texas. It was the first entirely autonomous trip on a public road. It was not accompanied by a test driver or police escort. The car had no steering wheel or floor pedals. By the end of 2015, Project Chauffeur had covered more than a million miles.
Google spent $1.1 billion on the project between 2009 and 2015. For comparison, the acquisition of Cruise Automation by General Motors in March 2016 was reported at just over $500 million, and Uber's acquisition of Otto in August 2016 was for $680 million.
In May 2016, Google and Stellantis announced an order of 100 Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans to test the self-driving technology.In December 2016, the project was renamed Waymo and spun out of Google as part of Alphabet. The name was derived from "a new way forward in mobility". In May 2016, the company opened a 53,000 ft2 technology center in Novi, Michigan.
In 2017, Waymo sued Uber for allegedly stealing trade secrets. Waymo began testing minivans without a safety driver on public roads in Chandler, Arizona, in October. In 2017, Waymo unveiled new sensors and chips that are less expensive to manufacture, cameras that improve visibility, and wipers to clear the lidar system. At the beginning of the self-driving car program, they used a $75,000 lidar system from Velodyne. In 2017, the cost decreased approximately 90 percent, as Waymo converted to in-house built lidar. Waymo has applied its technology to various cars including the Prius, Audi TT, Fiat Chrysler Pacifica, and Lexus RX450h. Waymo partners with Lyft on pilot projects and product development. Waymo ordered an additional 500 Pacifica hybrids in 2017.
In March 2018, Jaguar Land Rover announced that Waymo had ordered up to 20,000 of its I-Pace electric SUVs at an estimated cost of more than $1 billion. In late May 2018, Alphabet announced plans to add up to 62,000 Pacifica Hybrid minivans to the fleet. Also in May 2018, Waymo established Huimo Business Consulting subsidiary in Shanghai.
In April 2019, Waymo announced plans for vehicle assembly in Detroit at the former American Axle & Manufacturing plant, bringing between 100 and 400 jobs to the area. Waymo used vehicle assembler Magna to turn Jaguar I-PACE electric SUVs and Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans into Waymo Level 4 autonomous vehicles. Waymo subsequently reverted to retrofitting existing models rather than a custom design.
In March 2020, Waymo Via was launched after the company's announcement that it had raised $2.25 billion from investors. In May 2020, Waymo raised an additional $750 million. In July 2020, the company announced an exclusive partnership with auto manufacturer Volvo to integrate Waymo technology.
In April 2021, Krafcik was replaced by two co-CEOs: Waymo's COO Tekedra Mawakana and CTO Dmitri Dolgov. Waymo raised $2.5 billion in another funding round in June 2021, with total funding of $5.5 billion. Waymo launched a consumer testing program in San Francisco in August 2021. Geely Holding said its premium electric mobility brand, Zeekr, will make electric vehicles to be deployed as fully autonomous ride-hailing vehicles across the United States.
In May 2022, Waymo launched its Waymo One Trusted Tester program for residents in Phoenix, Arizona. In May 2022, Waymo announced that it would expand the program to more areas of Phoenix. In June 2022, Waymo announced a partnership with Uber, under which the former will integrate its autonomous technology into Uber's freight truck service. Plans to expand the program to Bellevue, Washington and Los Angeles were announced in late 2022. On December 13, 2022 Waymo applied for the final permit necessary to operate fully autonomous taxis, without a backup driver present, within the state of California.
In January 2023, The Information reported that Waymo staff were among those affected by Google's layoffs of around 12,000 workers. TechCrunch reported that Waymo was set to kill its trucking program.
Google and Waymo technology is improving so quickly that much of this is already out of date. Google has invested heavily in matrix multiplication and video processing hardware such as the TPU to augment Nvidia's GPUs and Intel CPUs. Much of this is shrouded in trade secrets, but transformer (machine learning) technology for inferencing is probably involved.
Sensors give 360-degree views while lidar detects objects up to 300 meters distant. Short-range lidar images objects near the vehicle, while radar is used to see around other vehicles and track objects in motion.
Riders push buttons to control functions such as "help", "lock", "pull over", and "start ride".
Waymo's deep-learning architecture VectorNet predicts vehicle trajectories in complex traffic scenarios. It uses a graph neural network to model the interactions between vehicles and demonstrated state-of-the-art performance on several benchmark datasets for trajectory prediction.
Waymo Carcraft is a virtual world where Waymo can simulate driving conditions. The simulator was named after the video game World of Warcraft. With Carcraft, 25,000 virtual self-driving cars navigate through models of Austin, Texas, Mountain View, California, Phoenix, and other cities.
Waymo uses Intel technologies, such as processors.
In June 2015, Waymo announced that their vehicles had driven over 1,000,000 mi (1,600,000 km) and that in the process they had encountered 200,000 stop signs, 600,000 traffic lights, and 180 million other vehicles. Prototype vehicles were driving in Mountain View. Speeds were limited to 25 mph (40 km/h) and had safety drivers aboard. Google took its first driverless ride on public roads in October 2015, when Mahan took a 10-minute ride around Austin in a Google "pod car" with no steering wheel or pedals. Google expanded its road-testing to Texas, where regulations did not prohibit cars without pedals and a steering wheel.
In 2016, road testing expanded to Phoenix and Kirkland, Washington, which has a wet climate. As of June 2016[update], Google had test driven its fleet of vehicles, in autonomous mode, a total of 1,725,911 mi (2,777,585 km). In August 2016 alone, their cars traveled a "total of 170,000 miles; of those, 126,000 miles were autonomous (i.e., the car was fully in control)".
In 2017, Waymo reported a total of 636,868 miles covered by the fleet in autonomous mode, and the associated 124 disengagements, for the period from December 1, 2015, through November 30, 2016. In November Waymo altered its Arizona testing by removing safety drivers. The cars were geofenced within a 100 square mile region surrounding Chandler, Arizona.
In 2017 Waymo began testing its level 4 cars in Arizona to take advantage of good weather, simple roads, and reasonable laws. In 2017, Waymo began testing in Michigan. Also, in 2017, Waymo unveiled its Castle test facility in Central Valley, California. Castle, a former airbase, has served as the project's training course since 2012.
In March 2018, Waymo announced its plans for experiments with the company's self-driving trucks delivering for Google data centers in Atlanta, Georgia. In October 2018, the California Department of Motor Vehicles issued a permit for Waymo to operate cars without safety drivers. Waymo was the first company to receive a permit that allowed day and night testing on public roads and highways. Waymo announced that its service would include Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, and Palo Alto. In July 2019, Waymo received permission to transport passengers.
In December 2018, Waymo launched Waymo One, transporting passengers. The service used safety drivers to monitor some rides, with others provided in select areas without them. In November 2019, Waymo One became the first autonomous service worldwide to operate without safety drivers.
In August 2021, commercial Waymo One test service started in the city, beginning with a "trusted tester" rollout.
In March 2022, Waymo said that they would begin offering rides in San Francisco without a driver for Waymo staff.
By July 2015, Google's 23 self-driving cars have been involved in 14 minor collisions on public roads.Google maintained that, in all but one case, the vehicle was not at fault because the cars were either driven manually or the driver of another vehicle was at fault.
Waymo regularly publishes safety reports. Waymo is required by the California DMV to report the number of incidents where the safety driver took control for safety reasons. Some incidents were not reported when simulations indicated that the car would have stopped safely on its own.
A Waymo robotaxi killed a dog in San Francisco while in "autonomous mode" in May 2023.
Waymo operates in some of its testing markets, such as Chandler, Arizona, at level 4 autonomy with no one sitting behind the steering wheel, sharing roadways with other drivers and pedestrians. Waymo's earlier testing focused on areas without harsh weather, extreme density, or complicated road systems, but it has moved on to test under new conditions. As a result, beginning in 2017, Waymo began testing in areas with harsher conditions, such as its winter testing in Michigan.
In 2014, a critic wrote in the MIT Technology Review that unmapped stop lights would cause problems with Waymo's technology and the self-driving technology could not detect potholes. Additionally, the lidar technology cannot spot some potholes or discern when humans, such as a police officers, signal the car to stop, the critic wrote. Waymo has worked to improve how its technology responds in construction zones.
California regulators do not require Waymo to disclose every incident involving erratic behavior in its fleet. In the first five months of 2023, San Francisco officials said they had logged more than 240 incidents in which a Cruise or Waymo vehicle might have created a safety hazard.
Waymo highlighted four specific business uses for its autonomous tech in 2017: Robotaxis, trucking and logistics, urban public transportation, and passenger cars.
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Trucking and delivery
Waymo Via, launched in 2020 to work with OEMs to get its technology into vehicles. The company is testing Class 8 tractor-trailers in Atlanta, and southwest shipping routes across Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. The company operates a trucking hub in Dallas, Texas. It is partnering with Daimler to integrate autonomous technology into a fleet of Freightliner Cascadia trucks.
Waymo operates 48 Class 8 autonomous trucks with safety drivers. In 2023 Waymo issued a joint application along with Aurora Innovation to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for a five-year exemption from rules that require drivers to place reflective triangles or a flare around a stopped tractor-trailer truck, to avoid needing human drivers, in favor of warning beacons mounted on the truck cab.
Waymo tested its technology in commercial delivery vehicles with United Parcel Service. In July 2020 Waymo and Stellantis expanded their partnership, including the development of Ram ProMaster delivery vehicles.
Waymo LLC v. Uber Technologies, Inc. et al.
In February 2017, Waymo sued Uber and its subsidiary self-driving trucking company, Otto, alleging trade secret theft and patent infringement. The company claimed that three ex-Google employees, including Anthony Levandowski, had stolen trade secrets, including thousands of files, from Google before joining Uber. The alleged infringement was related to Waymo's proprietary lidar technology, Google accused Uber of colluding with Levandowski. Levandowski allegedly downloaded 9 gigabytes of data that included over a hundred trade secrets; eight of which were at stake during the trial.
An ensuing settlement gave Waymo 0.34% of Uber stock, the equivalent of $245 million. Uber agreed not to infringe Waymo's intellectual property. Part of the agreement included a guarantee that "Waymo confidential information is not being incorporated in Uber Advanced Technologies Group hardware and software." In statements released after the settlement, Uber maintained that it received no trade secrets. In May, according to an Uber spokesman, Uber had fired Levandowski, which resulted in the loss of roughly $250 million of his equity in Uber, which almost exactly equaled the settlement. Uber announced that it was halting production of self-driving trucks through Otto in July 2018, and the subsidiary company was shuttered.
California disclosure dispute
In January 2022, Waymo sued the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to prevent data on driverless crashes from the public. Waymo maintained that such information constituted a trade secret. According to The Los Angeles Times, the "topics Waymo wants to keep hidden include how it plans to handle driverless car emergencies, what it would do if a robot taxi started driving itself where it wasn't supposed to go, and what constraints there are on the car's ability to traverse San Francisco's tunnels, tight curves and steep hills."
In February 2022, Waymo was successful in preventing the release of robotaxi safety records. A Waymo spokesperson affirmed that the company would be transparent about its safety record.
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