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Car and Driver: Alphabet Bloop: Google Spins Self-Driving Car Project Off into Google X, an Alphabet Company

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Google Self-Driving Car


Just before finding out that California plans to severely restrict the ease with which autonomous vehicles may be tested going forward, Google made the decision to fold its driverless car program under the Google X division of Alphabet, according to Bloomberg. What the heck is Alphabet? It’s the three-months-old holding company under which Google, Inc., and a variety of Google companies have been shoved so that each one can focus on its own purpose.


Google X—technically, its name is Googleˣ, but that’s annoying to type—is Alphabet’s experimental division. The driverless car project, as Google has called it, will join endeavors such as Project Wing (delivery drones, much like Amazon’s buzzy idea), Project Glass (wearable head-up displays), and Project Loon (high-altitude, internet-emitting balloons). Essentially, the driverless car project’s move to Google X is little more than a paper-shuffling exercise for Google as it reorganizes its plethora of divisions and projects into new Alphabet pillars. The whole idea is to leave Google, Inc., the traditional internet services division, to do its thing—and report its earnings distinctly from the rest of Alphabet, which is as profligate in spending money as Google, Inc. is at making it. The company’s stock ticker names, GOOG and GOOGL, remain, only the original Google stock has been converted to Alphabet stock.


While it’s been said that Google X is where pie-in-the-sky Alphabet projects go to marinate until their fantasy merges with reality, not every X project is pure imagination. Google Glass already debuted—albeit not terribly successfully—and Google’s driverless cars have been roaming California and Texas for some time now, racking up test miles like so many Google searches. Furthermore, Bloomberg claims that people close to ride-sharing service Uber’s board—in which Google Ventures has invested hundreds of millions of dollars—believe Google is gearing up its own ride-hailing service, possibly tied to its self-driving car program.


If that’s true, current technological limits place self-driving taxis way in the future, while legal realities like California’s restrictive new laws governing the testing of autonomous vehicles in Google’s back yard are another bug in that app. Essentially, California now requires autonomous cars have a specially licensed driver, an intriguing proposition given that Google’s—er, Alphabet’s, odd little self-driving car lacks a steering wheel and pedals. Perhaps Alphabet will soon gain a new division, one tasked with figuring out a way around California’s new law—or perhaps Google Maps will be called upon to chart a course for Texas or Nevada, where self-driving cars are freer to roam.


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