Today, Waymo bagged license from California government to test autonomous vehicles in public. Waymo started in 2009, demonstrated early results through its first autonomous ride in 2015 and demonstrates sophisticated autonomous driving technology having completed 10 million miles of driving. Yet, it doesn’t get the attention it deserves from the media, as compared to competitors such as Tesla, Uber, Zoox, etc. I often wondered why, until recently when I realized what Alphabet has in store for the company.
Alphabet wants to build an operating system for cars. It wants to do to car industry what it did with Android to mobile phone industry. In the rat race to get to autonomous driving vehicles including likes of Tesla, Uber, Zoox, etc, Waymo is one of the only players that has given up its plans of making a self-driving ‘car’, and is instead focusing on self-driving ‘technology’. It’s important to mention here that Waymo did come up with a self-driving car design and promoted it by the name of Firefly, until John Krafcik, from Hyundai, joined as CEO and decided to partner with current auto-makers like Toyota and Lexus, scrapping Firefly.
This was a landmark change in the history of car industry, as we are now entering the age of car operating systems. Imagine 20 years from now, all carmakers such as Hyundai and Toyota would release cars with operating systems such as Tesla’s or Waymo’s and there would be a similar consolidation in operating system market — like the one we saw in the mobile ecosystem where 10 operating systems converged to two- iOS and Android.
Now if Waymo did manage to be one of the two car operating systems, it would mean a lot to Google, which already has services such as Google Assistant and Google Maps tailor-made for car usage. It would mean that Google Assistant would follow me in the car through Waymo, in the home through Google Home, and in the pocket wherever we go through Android. This 360 degree presence would make Google truly ubiquitous, thereby enabling it to power search and navigation — everywhere, anytime.