Waymo Shifts Gears to Become a Supplier, GM Releases SDK

Alphabet has recalibrated its strategy with autonomous vehicle division Waymo. After spinning it off into a separate company, Alphabet is now focusing on Waymo’s ability to provide a complete hardware/software technological platform to manufacturers making self-driving cars. This new goal is in line with company CFO Ruth Porat’s directive that its moonshot initiatives actually meet specific financial targets. By doing so, Waymo becomes a direct competitor with companies such as Mobileye and Delphi.

Recode reports that, in December, Waymo chief executive John Krafcik revealed the company would build its own sensor technology, “the proverbial eyes that self-driving vehicles need to track the road and any obstacles such as oncoming traffic or pedestrians.” Krafcik also said that the company found a way to dramatically lower the cost of laser-based radar, and that “a combination of altering the design and bringing the production in-house” reduced the $75,000 price tag of a prototype by 90 percent.

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During his AutoMobili-D conference keynote, Krafcik noted that, “a single integrated system means that all the different parts of our self-driving technology work together seamlessly.”

But the company has obstacles to acceptance by major auto manufacturers. First is competition: Delphi and Mobileye have also partnered to “develop a fully self-driving system that automakers can begin to integrate into their vehicles in 2019,” and BMW is already a taker. Nvidia has also announced a deal to work with Bosch and ZF to power Audi’s self-driving system.

Another obstacle is that Waymo is owned by Alphabet, and “automakers have long steered clear of partnering with consumer-facing companies like Apple and Google for fear of ceding their in-car experience and brand.”

In a related story, TechCrunch reports that GM has created a software development kit for “those looking to build apps for its in-car infotainment system that exposes 400 data points from the car itself.” Using HTML5 and JavaScript, running off of Node.js, developers can create apps ready for testing in a week, according to GM director of application ecosystem and development Ed Wrenbeck.

“Historically, the automakers haven’t made it very easy for partners to really utilize the connected vehicle experience,” he said. “So we set out about seven months ago, as part of our API platform to really fix that and make it very easy for the corporate community to exploit the connected vehicle experience.” This is a major shift for how GM has worked with developers, who used to have to go to Michigan to test and debug apps.

The SDK “enables a fully virtual app-building process on any computer, with little hassle and no real new coding skills to learn for experienced front-end devs.” Access to 400 data points is significant; a competing automaker SDK provides access to less than 50. Among the data points are shift mode status and shift lever position, cruise control info, outside air temperature, trailer light status, road type and speed limit, and EV current max and min range.

GM says it is already working with IBM on Watson integration and AT&T; it will be prioritizing other, future partners and will host hackathons to “get the SDK in front of more people.”