Google “Not Betting the Farm” on Self-Driving Cars

Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page spoke to investors, and aimed to set their minds at ease with regards to the company’s spending habits. The company’s stock has not been doing so great...
Google “Not Betting the Farm” on Self-Driving Cars
Written by Chris Crum
  • Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page spoke to investors, and aimed to set their minds at ease with regards to the company’s spending habits.

    The company’s stock has not been doing so great since Page took over as CEO, with investors worrying that Google is spending too much on things that might not pay off. According to Mercury News, Google’s stock has dropped nearly as much as $100 per share since the transition in leadership.

    Page highlighted the company’s success with Android, Chrome, and Display Advertising. He reportedly put up a picture of Google’s famous self-driving cars, saying shareholders shouldn’t read press reports about things like that and assume a large amount of the company’s resources are being poured into them.

    He’s quoted as saying, “It’s much more interesting [for the media and people outside of the company] — what is the latest crazy thing that Google did. It tends to be like three people in the company, keep that in mind. We are not betting the farm on a lot of those things. That’s not what we are doing.”

    Page stressed that the company is still focusing on search and advertising, Google’s real breadwinners. “We don’t want to choke innovation,” he added. “We want to make sure we have a lot of things going on at the company that are maybe speculative…we spend the vast majority of our resources on our core businesses, which are search and advertising. … That’s our core focus.”

    In October, Google announced:

    So we have developed technology for cars that can drive themselves. Our automated cars, manned by trained operators, just drove from our Mountain View campus to our Santa Monica office and on to Hollywood Boulevard. They’ve driven down Lombard Street, crossed the Golden Gate bridge, navigated the Pacific Coast Highway, and even made it all the way around Lake Tahoe. All in all, our self-driving cars have logged over 140,000 miles. We think this is a first in robotics research.

    Our automated cars use video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to “see” other traffic, as well as detailed maps (which we collect using manually driven vehicles) to navigate the road ahead. This is all made possible by Google’s data centers, which can process the enormous amounts of information gathered by our cars when mapping their terrain.

    To develop this technology, we gathered some of the very best engineers from the DARPA Challenges, a series of autonomous vehicle races organized by the U.S. Government. Chris Urmson was the technical team leader of the CMU team that won the 2007 Urban Challenge. Mike Montemerlo was the software lead for the Stanford team that won the 2005 Grand Challenge. Also on the team is Anthony Levandowski, who built the world’s first autonomous motorcycle that participated in a DARPA Grand Challenge, and who also built a modified Prius that delivered pizza without a person inside. The work of these and other engineers on the team is on display in the National Museum of American History.

    This followed a lot of media criticism about Google’s continued ability to innovate, and numerous reports of top engineers choosing Facebook as an employer over Google.

    As recently as last month, Google was found to be “quietly lobbying” for proposed legislation in Nevada that would legalize self-driving cars on public roads. According to the New York Times, Google had hired a Las Vegas-based lobbyist to promote the legislation, which would allow the licensing and operation of the cars while also allowing texting behind the wheel of a self-driving car. 

    Self-driving cars aside, Google has recently unveiled some other ambitious endeavors, not the least of which being Google Wallet – the company’s vision for mobile payments. At Google I/O, the company’s developer conference held last month, the company discussed Android @ Home and the Open Accessory Projects, which would see everyday appliances getting integrated with the company’s mobile operating system. Google also unveiled Google Music, and the new Chromebooks, based on its innovative operating system strategy – Chrome OS.

    This week, Google officially launched Google Offers, which is a little more in line with the more traditional money makers like search and advertising. Then of course there’s the +1 button, which is even more directly tied to search and advertising.

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