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Waymo Co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana Talks Future of Autonomous Vehicles

Where does Waymo go from here?
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Waymo

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After dropping our AV guide yesterday, we wanted the perspective of an organization that’s been working on autonomous vehicles for...a while. We caught up with Tekedra Mawakana, who was appointed Waymo co-CEO two weeks ago, via email.

Expectations are high for her Alphabet business unit, which plans to commercialize its core “Waymo Driver” tech across two business lines:

  1. Waymo One. The driverless ride-hail service opened to the general public in suburban Phoenix late last year. Waymo One now gives "hundred of rides a week, 100% fully autonomously," Mawakana tells us, and "has definitely provided a positive validation" of the company’s approach.
  2. Waymo Via. The local delivery/freight venture kicked off in 2017. “We saw this as a natural next deployment of the Waymo Driver,” Mawakana says.

On strategy: “Ride-hailing will still be our primary focus, but we’ll also continue to deepen our investment in goods delivery.” Simultaneously pursuing ride-hail and delivery is expensive, but Mawakana says it ultimately enhances the underlying technology.

  • In the near-term, Mawakana says Waymo is focused on integrating its new Driver system into passenger car- and Class 8 truck fleets.

On lessons from Arizona: Residents who are “located in and around our Metro Phoenix service territory are definitely very familiar with Waymo,” she says. The company still sees some confusion among locals between AVs and driver-assist systems in personal cars.

On that confusion: It’s a national issue as well. How can the industry help clear up confusion as it expands?

  1. “We see public education as absolutely critical to our success,” Mawakana says, and “a huge component of our consumer-facing strategy.”
  2. By not saying “self-driving” anymore. Waymo’s transition to using fully autonomous terminology “wasn’t just a branding or linguistics exercise.” Aligning the AV industry and consumers on terms “will not just prevent misunderstanding and confusion among the public, but also help save lives,” she says.

On what’s next: “At a national level, we’re seeing more interest in autonomous driving technology.” And while Waymo is “always looking” at new markets and partnerships, for now, mum’s the word.

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