Google creates new company for driverless car tech

Waymo, an Alphabet company, has a mission to "make it safe and easy for people and things to move around," Google says.

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Google's parent company, Alphabet, created a new company called Waymo that focuses on driverless car technology, Google announced Tuesday.

The company's mission is to "make it safe and easy for people and things to move around." John Krafcik, who led the Google Self-Driving Car Project, will be Waymo's CEO.

Google has been developing self-driving car technology since 2009, and debuted its own prototype self-driving car in 2014. The car had no steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedal; the prototype relied on built-in sensors and a software system to safely maneuver.

Steve Mahan, who is blind, stands by an example of Level 5 self-driving car he rode in.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

A red-hot area of research in the automotive industry, self-driving cars show potential to greatly reduce or eliminate the tens of thousands of deaths that occur on US roads every year. This technology may also reduce traffic jams, a major fuel and time waster in US cities. Along with automakers, equipment suppliers, start-ups and big tech companies are all developing self-driving car technology.

As part of the Waymo announcement, Krafcik said the project hit a milestone last year when a blind person, Steve Mahan, became the first person to ride in a fully self-driving car. This car is defined as a Level 5 autonomous car, meaning it has no driver controls such as steering wheel or pedals. Most self-driving cars being tested today, including many of Google's, reach Level 4, meaning they still have driver controls.

Mahan's ride occurred in Austin, Texas, which permits fully autonomous testing, according to Google.

Krafcik said the Waymo self-driving car platform is still under development, and not ready to be licensed or sold to other companies. However, a report by The Information notes that Google-parent company Alphabet plans to focus more on partnerships with automakers to create a self-driving car with traditional cockpit features you'd find in a regular car. That change of focus could help the company launch a ride-sharing service with autonomous cars by the end of 2017, people close to the project told the site.