Standalone business status within Alphabet for the self-driving car project has been a long time coming, and Google X chief Astro Teller says that it’s finally happening. The self-driving car unit becoming a separate business speaks volumes about Alphabet’s faith in the project’s market viability, which has long been the subject of debate. The change won’t happen overnight, but according to Teller, the wheels have been turning since January, both literally and figuratively. Now, most of what’s left in the process is the legal footwork to get the world outside of the Googleplex to legally and commonly recognize the self-driving car unit, which has yet to be officially named, as its own business, independent of Alphabet.
Back in January, it had already been decided that the self-driving car unit would become its own standalone company under the Alphabet umbrella, much like Verily, formerly Google Life Sciences, did. The first step in that was to begin separating their finances from Alphabet’s; while still answerable to Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat, the change meant that the self-driving car project would have its very own budget and bankroll. It also meant that the unit could now fail; without being a part of Alphabet, getting money from the parent company to help stay afloat will now have some extra steps and red tape, meaning that saving the unit from outright failure, as unlikely as that may be, could be difficult.
Teller said that Alphabet planned to have the unit put out self-driving vehicles into the wild on a gradual basis, making the transition to mostly autonomously driven roads a bit easier for everybody. With the unit essentially being on its own now, plans for commercialization will have to, and likely will soon, move very quickly. One of the biggest avenues to revenue that were planned from the start is to sell the self-driving cars’ software and road-seasoned AI to major auto manufacturers, allowing them to make their own self-driving vehicles. Google never planned to manufacture self-driving cars, but did strike a long-term deal with Ford, meaning that their vehicles, and perhaps some others in the future, would have more direct involvement from the people behind the self-driving car software.