Waymo — Making Way for the Driverless Future

Why Waymo is the front runner in the autonomous vehicle space.

Waymo — the Alphabet owned self-driving car company is the front-runner in the autonomous vehicle space. Google started in 2009 with its self-driving car vision and it became Waymo in 2016. Its autonomous car program has finished self-driving for 4 million miles. In the current phase, Waymo is testing driving without a human driver. The progress we have seen with Waymo is so far the furthest in this space. Their website also has a signup application to be an early rider of their vehicle.

Waymo’s mission:

Waymo is a self-driving technology company with the mission to make it safe and easy for everyone to get around — without the need for anyone in the driver’s seat.

To explore more about their AI technology, I dived into their autonomous driving related patents to understand where they have invested heavily and what categories they have expertise in. I have described the different categories in Autonomous vehicle landscape in my first article.

Waymo falls under the ‘Autonomous Full Stack’ space which means it has built everything from Sensors, Control Algorithms, Localization and aspects of Fleet Automation in their self-driving vehicles. Their current models have modified “Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans” which are completely integrated with Waymo’s hardware and software suite designed for full autonomy.

Key Observations:

I. Navigation: There are only two companies in the world who have good navigational data, Google Maps division and Nokia’s Navteq division. There are other players with navigational data but their data is sparse. Sparse navigational data is a blocker for self-driving. Uber has bought the Navteq maps division from Microsoft.

II. Frontrunner advantage: Alphabet(Waymo’s parent) has permission from the State Department of Transportation to start their autonomous self-driving in Arizona. They have left the car manufacturing to the OEM and build on top of it to come up with a successful product.

III. Infrastructure advantage: Self-driving cars require running high simulation testing and computations for deep learning. These require an infrastructure with high computational power and data capacity. Waymo does not need to build such an infrastructure from the ground up as it can always leverage Google’s infrastructure talent and prowess.

IV. Data Prowess: As mentioned in an observation I, around Navigation, Google street view was released in 2007. Google has collected navigational data, years before it started street view. A decade of data collection is something no competitor can even imagine. To know more about the power of Google’s navigational data please read A Year of Google & Apple Maps.

Sources:

1. Data: Waymo, Google Patents.

2. Landscape Detail: Autonomous Transport Landscape.

Disclaimer: Data for this study is sourced from freely available sources. Sole motivation for this study is to increase personal understanding of the autonomous car space. I aim to make this a living document, please share any thoughts and feedback and I will update this on a periodic basis. Feedback on any omissions, factual errors are also welcome.


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