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Google Parent Forms New Driverless-Car Company

by December 13, 2016 General

Google parent Alphabet Inc. is spinning out its driverless-car technology from a research lab into its own business unit, called Waymo, that soon will be expected to start earning revenue.Alphabet executives had said they planned to graduate the self-driving-car project from Alphabet?s research lab, X. The move signals that the technology is nearing commercial rides.Former auto executive John Krafcik, who has led Alphabet?s driverless-car project for the past several years, will stay as Waymo?s chief executiveMr. Krafcik said that the company was the first to test a self-driving car on public roads without a human driver in the vehicle.Steve Mahan, the legally blind former director of the Santa Clara Valley Blind Center Inc. in San Jose, Calif., last year rode in a Waymo car that didn?t have a steering wheel or brake pedals in Austin, Texas, Mr. Krafcik said.Alphabet has been working to shift the car project into its own unit all year. Astro Teller, the head of the X lab, said at The Wall Street Journal?s WSJDLive tech conference in October that the car group?s finances were separated from X in January as part of the process of ?graduating? the unit.The company has conducted more than 2 million miles of testing on public roadways, it has said, stoking concerns among traditional auto makers that the tech giant may have designs on their business. General Motors Co. acquired San Francisco-startup Cruise Automation earlier this year in a deal valued at $1 billion to help jump start its self-driving car program. Ford Motor Co., BMW AG, Toyota Motor Corp. and others are developing similar technology, pushing to put autonomous vehicles on roadways by 2021. Tesla Motors Inc. is shipping vehicles with hardware that could be activated by a forthcoming software revision that would make the cars fully self-driving, the company has said.Increasingly, companies developing self-driving technology believe that autonomous cars initially will be used as robot taxis, in part to introduce them to a cautious public. Uber Technologies Inc. is testing its own self-driving taxis in Pittsburgh, and startup nuTonomy is testing such vehicles in Singapore.U.S. regulators are taking steps toward regulating the emerging technology, proposing guidelines earlier this year aimed at encouraging development while ensuring safety.Write to Jack Nicas at and Tim Higgins at