Waymo is an autonomous car development company spun out of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., in December 2016. It then took over the self-driving car project which Google had begun in 2009. Alphabet describes Waymo as “a self-driving tech company with a mission to make it safe and easy for people and things to move around.” The new company, which will be headed by long-time automotive executive John Krafcik, is working towards making self-driving cars available to the public soon.


The project team has equipped a number of different types of cars with the self-driving equipment, including the Toyota Prius, Audi TT, and Lexus RX450h. Google has also developed their own custom vehicle, which is assembled by Roush Enterprises and uses equipment from Bosch, ZF Lenksysteme, LG, and Continental. In May 2016, Google and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced an order of 100 Pacifica hybrid minivans to test the technology on.

Google’s robotic cars have about $150,000 in equipment including a $70,000 LIDAR system. The range finder mounted on the top is a Velodyne 64-beam laser. This laser allows the vehicle to generate a detailed 3D map of its environment. The car then takes these generated maps and combines them with high-resolution maps of the world, producing different types of data models that allow it to drive itself.

The system works with a very high definition inch-precision map of the area the vehicle is expected to use, including how high the traffic lights are; in addition to on-board systems, some computation is performed on remote computer farms.

How it works

Our vehicles have sensors and software that are designed to detect pedestrians, cyclists, vehicles, road work and more from a distance of up to two football fields away in all directions.

Software plan for the vehicles to slow down and make room for the cyclist to pass safely and comfortably ahead of us. Our sensors and software detect and predict the behavior of not only the cyclist, but of all the road users around us. We rely on 2 million miles of real world experience to teach our cars to navigate safely and comfortably through everyday traffic.

Navigating real roads

Every day, our cars drive safely through many complex scenarios on real city streets.

We can adjust to unexpected changes like closed lanes or respond to complex cues at a railroad crossing. We’ve also taught our vehicles to drive defensively, so they try to stay out of blind spots and nudge away from large vehicles.

Design modification

2009, we set out on a challenge to drive fully autonomously over ten uninterrupted 100-mile routes in our Toyota Prius vehicles. Months later, we’d succeeded in driving an order of magnitude larger than had ever been driven autonomously.

2012, We shifted focus to the more complex environment of city streets with pedestrians, cyclists, road work and more. Steve Mahan from the Santa Clara Valley Blind Center took his first test ride in the driver’s seat, accompanied by a test driver.

2014, Designed a new prototype vehicle. We explored what fully self-driving cars could be like by designing a new prototype vehicle from the ground up. These vehicles had custom sensors, computers, steering and braking, but no steering wheels or pedals.

2015, Our prototypes hit public roadsOur prototypes joined our Lexus fleet on city streets in Mountain View, CA and Austin, TX. Google employees started testing our vehicles on city streets, and local artists created artwork for our vehicles as part of Paint the Town.