Google has today announced that the new lead on their driverless car project is John Krafcik. He was once the head of the US arm of Hyundai and is an industry veteran when it comes to the automotive industry. The fact that they have taken him on board shows just how serious Google is getting in making the driverless car a significant element in their overall business.
Krafcik had been the president and chief executive during his time with Hyundai Motors America, and currently, he is the president of TrueCar’s vehicle pricing terminal. He will start to work for Google and their autonomous car project towards the end of this month.
The current head of the self-driving division of Google is Chris Urmson, who has been running the project since 2009. He will now become technical lead instead. Nevertheless, in that role, he will continue to have significant influence on the project, mainly overseeing the overall operations.
According to experts in the field, the fact that Krafcik has been appointed into this role shows that the driverless car will soon become a true company within Alphabet, which is the corporate structure that includes Google. Clearly, according to these experts, Google is very serious about taking this project to the next level. And if anyone would be able to lead on that, Krafcik would be the man. In a statement released by Google, it became clear that the company agrees with these projections.
We’re feeling good about our progress, so now we’re investing in building out a team that can help us bring this technology to its full potential. John’s combination of technical expertise and auto-industry experience will be particularly valuable as we collaborate with many different partners to achieve our goal.
We already know that Google will not manufacture the self-driving vehicles. Rather, they have been in discussions with a number of car manufacturers and are looking at who they could potentially collaborate with. At the minute, its closest partner is Roush, a supplier in the Detroit area. They were responsible for the ‘pods’, which were the prototype self-driving vehicles. Google wants the rest of the automotive industry to know that they are not planning a hostile takeover of the car manufacturing market. Rather, they intend to work side by side and in collaboration.
Meanwhile, the automotive industry has not shown much excitement about the project. This is because they do not want to take on a contracted role to Google. After all, the Silicon Valley company would be behind the production of most of the vehicle’s value, which is in its operating system. Additionally, they worry that Google would take advantage of the vehicle’s media services, which are provided by the manufacturer.
On the other hand, Google’s concept is clearly something that has interested the automotive world. Both Audi and Toyota are building their own driverless vehicles. Uber, a global taxi app, is now also funding research into self-driving technology. They have invested in Carnegie Mellon University for their research. Krafcik himself feels that the car manufacturing industry has nothing to worry about.
This is a great opportunity to help Google develop the enormous potential of self-driving cars. This technology can save thousands of lives, give millions of people greater mobility and free us from a lot of the things we find frustrating about driving today.
The self-driving vehicle is all part of Google X, the experimental part of the company. Their laboratories are hard at work to develop new technologies. These include artificial intelligence and robotics. Current projects that are on the go with Google include Loon, which is going to be a system that allows the world to access the internet as hot air balloons fly all over the world.
At present, the driverless vehicles that are being tested by Google drive some 10,000 miles each week. This is taking place at their Mountain View, CA headquarters, as well as in a special Austin, TX facility. There have been both successes and failures in these tests, and Google has now stated that they will soon be running extended prototype pilot programs. It is not yet known what these programs will entail, but we do know that it will happen, and soon.
Google is aiming to have a car ready for consumers within five years, and it’s making progress fast. Its autonomous vehicles—25 Lexus SUVs and five prototypes with no steering wheel or pedals—are covering 10,000 miles a week on public roads in Mountain View and Austin.
Krafcik has been in the automotive industry since 1984. He started work after graduation with a mechanical engineering degree at Stanford University. He was one of the very first engineers to have joined Nummi, which is a car plant run as a joint venture between General Motors and Toyota. Nummi is famous for bringing Japanese management styles and working practices into production lines in this country. These styles and working practices have been shown to increase overall efficiency. Krafcik has also spent 20 years in positions of senior leadership with both Hyundai and Ford. In 2014, he joined TrueCar.
You may not have heard of TrueCar, but the service Krafcik currently heads has made waves in the US car-buying industry. Thanks to its transparency around car prices, and the fact that users can haggle directly from their smartphones, it’s enabled many users to skip the usual dealership-focused car-buying process.
With many news reports showing that artificial intelligence and robotics are the way of the future, it seems that a driverless car is just a very small step to take from the world we live in now. And Google is nothing if not bold in its experiments. While many of the concepts developed by Google X never see the light of day, or are taken off the market very quickly (like the Google Glass project), it seems that this one may just be a very serious project. Maybe we will soon see self-driving cars all over the road.