Dissatisfied with the slow progress of autonomous driving development, waymo CEO, CFO and other executives resigned


Tencent technology news August 19th, for a long time, Google’s autopilot technology is regarded as the leader of the whole industry. Its sister company Waymo even launched autopilot taxi service in Phoenix City. However, despite years of research and billions of dollars of investment, this technology has not been widely commercialized, and even there are still many technical problems that are difficult to overcome. Due to dissatisfaction with the slow progress of technology development, many executives in waymo have chosen to leave, including CEO and CFO.
When Joel Johnson’s self driving taxi broke down in the middle of a busy road in the suburb of Phoenix, he smiled awkwardly in the back seat. The car was operated by pioneer Waymo in the field of autopilot. It encountered several traffic cones in the construction area and then fell into a state of motionless motion.
Johnson shouted to the driver who honked his horn behind him, “guys, please go around!” 14 minutes after the vehicle was in a traffic jam, a waymo technician tried to approach, but the car suddenly drove forward unexpectedly and away from him. “It certainly looked like a very dangerous situation,” Johnson recalled
Johnson posted his experience on YouTube in May, which embarrassed waymo. The company, which is making steady progress, has realized its problems. As a subsidiary of Google’s parent company alphabet, waymo has not expanded its autonomous taxi service beyond Phoenix after years of careful testing.
However, waymo has begun to enter other fields, including truck transportation, logistics, personal vehicles, etc., but these businesses are still in the early stage. Moreover, the company’s production process of adding cars to its autonomous fleet is unbearably slow.
This spring, many of waymo’s top talents left on a large scale, including its CEO, CFO and heads of truck transportation products, manufacturing and automobile cooperation. Many executives are frustrated by the company’s slow progress in the development of autonomous driving technology, people familiar with the matter said.
Despite years of research and billions of dollars of investment, the technology behind autopilot is still flawed. Not long ago, the brilliant future of Waymo and its many competitors, the car that was able to imagine, was close at hand. But Tim Papandreou, a former employee, said: “now people realize that the work in the future is really difficult.”
By most standards, Waymo is still the leader of the world’s autopilot. Google’s technology development began more than a decade ago. Last year, the company started a fully autonomous taxi program in Arizona, achieving a historic milestone. During the novel coronavirus pneumonia, many competitors abandoned automatic driving or sold themselves to other companies. But waymo continues to operate, raising $5.7 billion from external investors since last summer, and alphabet has spent billions of dollars.
Autopilot auto industry integration
Waymo pointed out that compared with its competitors, waymo has made remarkable achievements. The company said it had provided “tens of thousands” of autonomous ride services in Arizona since last fall. “We think this is a great achievement,” waymo spokesman said in a statement. In fact, there is no other way of fully automatic driving to show how difficult it is to achieve this feat. ”
But the company’s remaining competitors are beginning to achieve the same milestone. With the support of Ford and Volkswagen, Argo AI will start charging for autonomous ride service in Miami and Austin later this year, despite the supervision of human drivers behind the steering wheel. Zoox and Cruise, supported by general motors, Honda and Softbank, have begun testing autopilot on public roads in California. Although these companies have not yet made a profit from autonomous driving technology, they are investing billions of dollars to offset waymo’s early leadership.
Waymo separated from Google’s research laboratory in 2016 and became the latest subsidiary of alphabet, and continued to recruit a large number of people to reach business agreements with automobile manufacturers, draft financial models, lobby Congress and promote its technology. At that time, many waymo employees believed that the machinery was in place to enable fully autonomous cars to go on the road immediately.
In 2017, waymo launched an automatic driving service supervised by human drivers in Phoenix. At that time, some employees said ambitiously that the service would be expanded to 9 cities within 18 months. Employees often discuss that they have solved the “99% problem” of autopilot cars, and think that “this technology is ready”. Another former company employee said, “we think we can activate autopilot service if we switch a switch.”
But facts have proved that the last 1% of the problems can be called “killers”. Small disturbances such as construction personnel, cyclists, left turns and pedestrians still give “computer drivers” a headache. Every city is facing new and unique challenges. At present, no company’s autopilot can cope with the weather disturbances such as rain and snow. Until the final details are finalized, the widespread commercialization of fully automatic driving vehicles is almost impossible.
Mike Ramsey, a Detroit based analyst at Gartner, a market research firm, and a senior industry observer, said: “we landed on the moon, and then it was like, what now? We planted a flag and got some stones, but what now? We can’t do anything about this earth satellite. ”
Manufacturing capacity is becoming a bottleneck

At first, waymo seemed to be producing cars at a super fast speed. In 2018, Waymo signed up to 20 thousand Jaguar SUV into Waymo autopilot. A few months later, the company said it would expand the Chrysler Pacifica fleet to more than 60000 vehicles. Waymo plans to buy these cars and install what it calls “drivers”, including cameras, sensors and proprietary computer equipment. John Krafcik, then chief executive and former auto industry executive, declared: “there are not many things to install.”
However, in reality, skilled disassembly is required. Engineers have to take cars apart and reassemble them manually. According to a person familiar with the operation process, a wire placed in the wrong position may confuse engineers for days to figure out what the problem is. The person familiar with the matter said that waymo’s system is a little cumbersome and prone to quality problems.
The person familiar with the matter said that the tedious and boring process made waymo have no feasible way of mass production. To this end, waymo significantly reduced the parts orders of Chrysler project, and the delivery of Jaguar modified vehicles was far less than originally expected.
Waymo spokesman said that the company’s supply in Detroit is not limited and all internal production targets with Jaguar are expected to be achieved, but declined to disclose details. The company also countered that it was behind schedule in manufacturing Chrysler vehicles, noting that the agreements were “unstable and may change”.
Waymo’s Detroit competitors already have huge manufacturing capacity. For example, Argo and Cruise plan to build their self driving cars from scratch. Gartner analyst Ramsey said that people in the industry generally believe that waymo is a leader in technology, but its manufacturing capacity may give Detroit people an advantage in producing cars. Speaking of waymo’s production capacity, Ramsey said: “I don’t know what quantity they are delivering at present, but it may not be much.”
In 2019, waymo rented a warehouse in Detroit. As krafsik said at that time, it will become “the first dedicated automatic chemical plant in the world”. Michigan officials agreed to provide the company with $8 million in subsidies, in part on the condition that it creates at least 100 jobs in the state. According to state government filings, waymo had employed 22 people at the facility as of last fall. However, waymo said it had fulfilled its commitment to help 100 people find employment and would not comment on the specific number of employees. A former employee said that earlier this year, waymo tried to produce 5 to 10 cars a day at the factory.
After publicly touting the miracle of automatic driving for many years, waymo’s personnel have begun to talk about how to manage people’s expectations of what and when their cars can do. Several people working in waymo said that the parent company alphabet was extremely cautious, especially after Uber’s automatic driving test vehicle killed a pedestrian in Arizona in 2018.
For example, according to three people familiar with the matter, waymo’s interim Board of directors rejected a high-profile marketing campaign by krafsik. In 2018, he wants to show the company’s technology in many cities and use pop-up marketing devices to show the functions of waymo. Tesla’s early models took a similar approach. However, the board of directors composed of Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, alpha veterans and many external investors are worried that launching a product before the technology is ready will repeat the mistakes of Google glass.
Krafsik left the company in April. The new co CEOs are tekedra mawakana, former chief operating officer of waymo, and Dmitri dolgov, a former chief technology officer. This spring, as waymo completed a new round of financing, the two executives met with supporters and partners. According to one investor, the new CEO was optimistic at a recent meeting, saying that as the epidemic subsided, the company was preparing to make “great progress” in achieving its previous goals.
At the same time, in Phoenix, Johnson was still enthusiastic about this technology even after the anchor incident. He said, “Waymo’s autopilot seems to be able to handle almost everything I try to throw to it.” In other words, it works 99% of the timeļ¼ˆ Tencent Technology (reviser / Jinlu)