Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg spoke at the IAA Frankfurt Motor Show in Germany, saying that the company does not want to compete with the country's major automakers. Sandberg clarified that the company is indeed in the business of making systems for self-driving cars, but does not plan to create its own vehicles to put those systems into. Sandberg joked that the company is the only entity in Silicon Valley that does not want to compete with German automakers, despite Waymo's retirement of its early buglike self-driving cars. It is worth noting, however, that Waymo has partnered up with Ford on the long term, and partnered with Chrysler to make a limited run of self-driving Pacifica units.
Facebook seems to have been working on artificial intelligence that could lead to self-driving technology in some capacity for a while now, but this announcement is the first official confirmation that the company will be competing in that arena. While there was no formal announcement of independent development or specific partnerships, Sandberg did say that Facebook would be getting together with automakers and tech startups in the country to conduct early mobility tests in urban areas. She also announced that the company would sponsor the creation of a university in Berlin with a curriculum focus on "digital product development". While that certainly means that Facebook wants to get its hands into Germany's growing digital landscape, this could also mean that the company will be using that university as a training ground of sorts to groom potential recruits for roles within Facebook, which could include the development of self-driving systems.
Sandberg's stop off at the auto show was actually a bit of a side trip; mostly, Sandberg was in Germany to speak with German Chancellor Angela Merkel about recent changes to German law regarding social media. Specifically, she wanted to talk to the chancellor about Facebook's handling of hate speech in the wake of a law that leverages fines of up to 50 million euros toward companies that don't manage to take down hateful posts on their service fast enough. There is no hard and fast guideline for how long a hate-based post can stay up before it qualifies the company for punishment under the new law, which leaves each case open to individual scrutiny.