John Krafcik, the chief executive of Alphabet’s autonomous-driving company, Waymo, is stepping down, the company announced Friday.
“After five and a half exhilarating years leading this team, I’ve decided to depart from my CEO role with Waymo and kick-off new adventures,” Krafcik said in a blog post.
Krafcik will be replaced by two current Waymo executives – COO Dmitri Dolgov and CTO Tekedra Mawakana – who will head the firm as co-CEOs, the company said. Krafcik will stay on as an advisor to the firm, and it was not immediately clear if he has plans to move to a new role outside the company.
Before heading up Waymo, Krafcik served as the CEO of Hyundai Motor North America and of car-buying website True Car.
Waymo, which was founded in 2009 as the Google Self-Driving Car Project, is working on autonomous-driving technology for future ride-hailing and delivery services. The system, Waymo Driver, has logged tens of millions of miles of driving on US roads and is considered by many to be the most advanced self-driving system in development.
Ford is also looking to get into autonomous cars. In March, the automaker announced that its new Active Driver Assist program would be available for the Mustang Mach-E later this year for a $600 activation fee.
The software enables hands-free driving and would have level 2 autonomy, similar to Tesla’s current self-driving capabilities.
This is not the first time Tesla’s self-driving software has been criticized
After Tesla’s beta software was released, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said: “No vehicle available for purchase today is capable of driving itself.”
Tesla launched the software beta in October and has since offered it as a $10,000 add-on. Tesla plans to release a more advanced version as a subscription offering this summer.
As a luxury car brand, Tesla’s self-driving software is designed to allow cars to park themselves, change lanes, and identify stop signs as well as potential obstructions. The program still requires a licensed operator. Similarly, Tesla’s autopilot system assists drivers by braking and steering for them when enabled.
If it decides to go that route, the tech company would be employing a similar strategy to its approach to iPhone manufacturing, and one that would leave out big-name car companies, which Apple has been talking to in recent years.
Over the past few months, there has been a lot of speculation regarding which company Apple could choose to partner with in the development of its first car, which is codenamed Project Titan.
In December, Reuters reported Apple was planning to release an electric self-driving car by 2024, but Apple car speculation dates back to 2014.
This year, Apple’s talks with major automakers appear to have reached a stalemate so far, but Bloomberg says contract manufacturers Foxconn and Magna International are top contenders for a potential Apple car partnership.
Apple has been in talks with several companies including Hyundai and Kia. Bloomberg reports the company even met with Ferrari last year, but that the talks didn’t lead anywhere. A deal with a major automaker would require Apple to convince a big-name car company to manufacture a product that could end up being a major competitor to the carmaker’s own offerings, which Bloomberg reports has been a tough sell.
If the tech company employed a similar tactic to its iPhone manufacturing process, it would be able to avoid building its own factories and would be able to source its own material, all while avoiding relying on a potential competitor.
Magna was reported to have been in talks with Apple when the company first expressed interest in creating a car years ago. The manufacturing company also assembles cars for several car companies, including BMW.
If the tech company launched an electric car it could cut into other automaker’s margins, including Tesla. The car, entitled “Project Titan” would allow Apple a slice of a $10 trillion market, according to Morgan Stanley.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company has been in early talks to share its self-driving software with other manufacturers during an earnings call Wednesday.
“We’ve had some preliminary discussions about licensing Autopilot to other OEMs,” Musk said during the call.
Musk emphasized the company is not looking to keep the software to itself, but is waiting for the service to become more reliable before sharing it with outside companies.
“We need to probably do a little more work to prove that Autopilot is capable of full self driving,” Musk said. “Then we’re more than happy to license that to other car companies.”
The CEO has said in the past that he is not looking to edge out other competitors, but rather simply advance the technology.
The software was released as a public beta to a select group of consumers – Musk said it was around 1,000 – in October. The software still requires a licensed human operator, though Musk said he’s hopeful it could be capable of Level 5 autonomy within the year.
“The software is improving dramatically,” Musk said.
When the feature entered public beta, users quickly reported multiple errors, with YouTube videos showing the software missing intersections and boulevards.
Musk says Tesla is focusing on improving Tesla’s neural network through 3-D labeling, gathering videos, and labeling elements so that the program can learn.
“We believe we have the best neural-net-training software in the world by an order of magnitude,” Musk said.
Tesla’s plan is to create a car that will drive better and be more reliable than the average human.
Tesla is not the only company pursuing full automation. In October, Waymo, a Google subsidiary, launched an entirely driverless ride service in Phoenix. General Motors, Volkswagen, and Ford have also been pushing for autonomous vehicles, with Volkswagen and Ford joining together to support Argo Ai, an autonomous driving technology company.
The company has gone head to head in the past with other automakers pursuing fully automated vehicles. Recently, Waymo CEO John Krafcik said Tesla was “no competition at all” when it came to making autonomous vehicles.
However, Musk said he believes the company could deliver on his promise of a fully-automated system sooner rather than later.
“From my standpoint, it looks like a very clear and obvious path towards a vehicle that will drive safer than a person,” Musk said. “I don’t really see any obstacles here.”
The two vehicle companies have sparred recently, with Waymo earlier this month dropping its “self-driving” description, as an apparent dig at Tesla.
On its website, Tesla describes its Autopilot feature as being the future of self-driving vehicles “in almost all circumstances.” Among its features are eight cameras with 360-degree visibility, 12 sensors, and a forward-facing radar, according to the company.
Waymo said in a blog post: “We’re hopeful that consistency will help differentiate the fully autonomous technology Waymo is developing from driver-assist technologies (sometimes erroneously referred to as ‘self-driving’ technologies) that require oversight from licensed human drivers for safe operation.”
In the Manager Magazin interview published on Friday, Krafcik said Tesla is “developing a really good driver-assistance system,” according to Bloomberg.
Tesla’s website states: “All new Tesla cars have the hardware needed in the future for full self-driving in almost all circumstances.” Among its features are eight cameras with 360-degree visibility, 12 sensors, and a forward-facing radar, according to the company.
But Waymo’s sensor setup is “orders of magnitude better,” said Krafcik, according to automotive news blog Jalopnik. The difference, he said, is that Waymo is working on fully autonomous vehicles, while Tesla is only adding autonomous features to its vehicles, according to the report.
“It is a misconception that you can just keep developing a driver assistance system until one day you can magically leap to a fully autonomous driving system,” said Krafcik, according to Jalopnik and Bloomberg.
Waymo also has significantly reduced the cost of building an autonomous vehicle, according to the report.
“The costs for the technology are greatly overestimated – at least in our case,” Krafcik said, according to Forbes.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk sat down with Mathias Döpfner, the CEO of Business Insider’s parent company, Axel Springer, to discuss the prospect of a self-driving car revolution, the deep implications of artificial intelligence, and his ambitions for space exploration.
“I’m definitely not trying to take anyone’s steering wheel away from them,” Musk said, clarifying his bullish stance on self-driving cars.
The tech billionaire also warned, “We need to be careful with the advent of AI. And who’s using it, and who controls it, and is it going to be in the best interest of the people?”
In an interview with Mathias Döpfner, the CEO of Axel Springer, Business Insider’s parent company, Elon Musk revealed his thoughts on self-driving cars, oversight of artificial intelligence, and reasons behind his quest to be buried on Mars.
Musk, who had announced in October Tesla’s release of a beta version of its long-awaited “full self-driving” software, clarified that he is “definitely not trying to take anyone’s steering wheel away from them.”
“I’m just saying what will most likely occur, and I am certain about this, is that self-driving will become much safer than a human driver. Probably by a factor of 10,” he told Döpfner, adding that the bar for whether a person will be able to drive or not will be much more “stringent” in the future when autonomous driving is “10 times safer.”
But as Business Insider’s Graham Rapier reported, the top US safety regulator, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, has repeated that “no vehicle available for purchase today is capable of driving itself.”
“The most advanced vehicle technologies available for purchase today provide driver assistance and require a fully attentive human driver at all times performing the driving task and monitoring the surrounding environment. Abusing these technologies is, at a minimum, distracted driving. Every State in the Nation holds the driver responsible for the safe operation of the vehicle,” the agency said.
Musk explained while artificial intelligence was a key priority among his various projects, “it’s important to have some kind of government oversight.”
“We need to be careful with the advent of AI. And who’s using it, and who controls it, and is it going to be in the best interest of the people?” he told Döpfner.
When Döpfner asked if, in the future, machines will “serve” mankind or vice versa, Musk responded: “Well, sometimes when I look at everyone on their phone all the time, I wonder, who is the master of who?”
“Yes, people are constantly responding to things on their phone. They feel like they own the phone, but perhaps they should ask themselves whether the phone owns them,” Musk added.
“And I think it’s perhaps less a question of whether AI is serving humanity or vice versa. Rather, there is a symbiosis. And hopefully, that symbiosis is one that mutually benefits digital and biological intelligence.”
Throughout 2020, Musk has made clear his plans to achieve space exploration in the very near future. In January, he shared details on Twitter about his plans to send 1 million people to Mars by 2050. (Later in October, he said SpaceX has a “fighting chance” of sending an uncrewed Starship rocket to Mars in 2024.) This past summer he reportedly told his employees in an internal email that SpaceX would focus on Starship as its primary goal. And in November, SpaceX launched its 23rd mission of 2020 – a record number of flights carried out in a year, Business Insider’s Kate Duffy reported.
“It’s not that Mars is a plan B, it’s that we want to become a multi-planet species and a spacefaring civilization,” Musk told Döpfner when asked why SpaceX was so important to him.
Musk said he “most likely” expected to see the first human on Mars in six years. He said he himself would probably go into space in “two or three years.”
“Mars is a real planet so we can create a real civilization there,” he said, adding, “There’s also this terrible terror, but it’s going to be a great adventure, and be one of the most exciting things that ever happened, if you don’t die. That would be my ad for Mars.”