Alphabet’s Waymo Considered Volvo, Uber Pair-Up


An internal document has revealed that Waymo, the former self-driving vehicle unit of Google, met with more than 12 carmakers, including Volvo, as it searched for manufacturing partners for its self-driving car technology. According to Bloomberg, a memo marked “highly confidential” was written on Aug. 18, 2016  the same day Uber announced it was partnering with Volvo, and that it had acquired self-driving truck company Otto, which was co-founded by former Waymo worker Anthony Levandowski.

“Did we try to talk to Volvo? Yes. We have met with over a dozen [original equipment manufacturers (OEMs)] this year, including Volvo,” Waymo said in the memo. “We were surprised they wanted to partner with Uber, given the importance they place on safety and developing this technology safely. However, the deal with Uber is non-exclusive for both parties.”

In the memo, Waymo also claimed that Uber was still interested in partnering up in some capacity.

“Uber called us after today’s announcement, and they reiterated their desire to partner with us, which is perhaps a sign of the lack of confidence in their progress,” the memo said.

In addition, the documents revealed that Waymo had considered Uber’s approach of featuring autonomous test cars with regular human drivers. “Introducing a mixed fleet can be a distraction to our business, and also training wheels that become harder to take off from a public and regulatory perspective (for example, regulators may force us to keep test drivers in vehicles indefinitely until we’ve driven x billions of miles),” the company wrote.

The document reassured staff that Alphabet’s bosses, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, are “really supportive” of Waymo. However, other emails showed that Page was upset about Levandowski’s departure, and worried that he would eventually launch a rival company, with a Google HR manager calling the episode a “soap opera.”

In 2017, Waymo sued Otto over allegations that Otto stole its proprietary design for a radar system. These recent documents showed that the lawsuit focused on lidar, a sensor technology that helps cars detect their surroundings.