Waymo Debut

This year was the first CES appearance for Waymo, although it has appeared in previous years under the name, “Google Self-Driving Car Program”.

Waymo CEO John Krafcik used the opportunity to shed some light on a perpetual parlor game for self-driving car enthusiasts: “what is Google’s strategy for self-driving cars?”

Google has had self-driving cars scooting around Mountain View for years, but it’s always been unclear what the go-to-market strategy would be, and when it would start rolling.

Krafcik’s statements indicate that Google’s long game may be as a provider of autonomous vehicle hardware and software, rather than as an auto manufacturer or a transportation-as-a-service provider.

Krafcik specifically highlighted Waymo’s gains with its in-house LIDAR sensor technology. Along with adding short- and long-range sensing units for better detection than its previous systems, the company has managed to slash the cost of its LIDAR by more than 90 percent in two years from about $75,000 per vehicle.

Krafcik’s language is telling — those “firsts” imply that this is just the start of Waymo’s autonomous partnerships, with many more to come. By focusing on the production of its own hardware along with software, Waymo won’t become a major automaker, at least not yet. Instead, it clearly intends to be the go-to supplier of autonomous driving systems for automakers that don’t want the expense of developing their own.

I’m not convinced the mystery has been solved yet, but it’s an important clue in the Google guessing game.

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