January 30, 2023
Waymo is the latest self-driving tech company to lay off staff.
It’s understood a limited number of employees were let go earlier this week, following significant job cuts at parent company Alphabet, owner of Google.
Alphabet made headlines worldwide with the news that it was cutting 12,000 jobs or around 6% of its global workforce.
Posts on LinkedIn suggest Waymo workers across various departments have been released in another demonstration of belt-tightening across the industry, although it is unclear how many of the company’s 2,500 employees are affected.
The news comes despite a year where Waymo has made tangible progress with its driverless vehicles.
In December it applied for a permit from the California Public Utilities Commission to allow it to start charging for driverless rides in its Jaguar i-Pace robotaxis in San Francisco, and it has recently expanded its service area in Phoenix, Arizona, where it is now offering rider-only trips between the city’s Sky Harbor International Airport and the downtown area.
While the progress of its robotaxi operation is undeniable, media reports indicate that the company may, however, be putting the brakes on its trucking program Waymo Via, with full autonomous deployment likely to be delayed. Last June it announced a partnership with Uber Freight intended to “unlock the thoughtful and safe implementation of autonomous trucks on America’s roads.”
News of the layoffs is another reminder of the cost and complexity of developing fully self-driving transport, following a turbulent few months for the industry.
In October, Ford and Volkswagen ended their funding for Pittsburgh-based driverless tech company Argo AI, causing the closure of the start-up. The automakers had each injected upwards of a billion dollars in Argo AI and saw no immediate return on their investment, so instead decided to focus on developing their own driver-assistance tech.
And at the end of 2022, there were significant layoffs at autonomous trucking company TuSimple.
While there is no suggestion whatsoever that the situation at Waymo is anywhere quite so stark, the job cuts reflect the expensive reality of developing driverless transport. Alphabet’s third-quarter earnings for 2022 showed a drop in profits of 27%, and although Waymo was not listed separately on the balance sheet, it is understood it contributed to a loss of $1.6 billion under what Alphabet terms “other bets.”
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