18 Pros and Cons of Google’s Restructuring for Self-Driving Cars
Brad Templeton, once a consultant for Google's self-driving car team, offers some insight on how Google's recent restructuring might impact its robocars division.
3. Google has fantastic benefits that are hard to duplicate in a small company. One suspect’s Alphabet’s subsidiaries will probably mirror a lot of Google’s policies, but there is a limit to what they can do. A google badge does not just get you dozens of restaurants and a large commuter bus system, it gets you things like a great series of internal talks from technical and world leaders and many other events. Google spends a lot on keeping its people happy. A lot.
4. Google has a fun company culture, with lots of cool people. People make a lot of friendships with very smart friends there, even outside their groups.
5. Inside Google there is always the opportunity to switch to different projects, many of which are grand and sure to affect a lot of people, without getting a new job.
6. The projects at Google X have the personal interest of Larry Page and Sergey Brin. That’s been very useful to them within Google, but it also threatens the necessary independence of the CEOs of the new subsidiaries, who will still report to Alphabet. It remains to be seen if the founders can be sufficiently hands off.
7. Google is perhaps the world’s top brand. It is able to get things done. When you call companies and say, “I’m calling from the Google car team” they return your calls right away and jump at the chance to talk with you. Doors are opened that are closed to most startups. (Admittedly, the project at Google is now so famous that it might overcome this.)
8. Google’s power has allowed it to also do things like get laws made and changed around robocars; in fact this kickstarted the legal changes around the world. A small company will have a harder time.
9. Google’s power gives it a strange upper hand in negotiations with other players like big car companies. Big car companies are very used to being in charge of any talks they have with partners and suppliers.
I have no inside information on this deal - this is all based on lots of observation of public information about Google and non-confidential impressions from having been there. Some of this could be wrong. Alphabet might have Google re-sell some of its perks like the bus system to the other companies. It will certainly lend a hand where it makes a lot of sense. There is a fine line, though - the more “help” you give, the more “perfectly reasonable” conditions the help comes with and soon you’re like a division again.
There have been no specific announcements about Chauffeur either. Will Google X be a subsidiary with Astro Teller as CEO, including the car? Will the car have its own company? Will Chris Urmson be CEO if so? Or will X continue as the research lab of Alphabet, while other “graduated” portions of it go off into their own companies? Specific mention was made of “Wing” which is doing drones, but not of other X projects. More news will surely come.
Overall, I think this is a strong decision. If Google was to fail in the race to robocars, I always felt that that failure would come from one of two fronts - either the mistakes that big companies make because they are big, or from the special hubris of Google and its #1 position. Now these two dangers are dimmed.
About the Author
Brad Templeton is a developer of and commentator on self-driving cars, software architect, board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, internet entrepreneur, futurist lecturer, writer and observer of cyberspace issues, hobby photographer, and an artist. Templeton has been a consultant on Google’s team designing a driverless car and lectures and blogs about the emerging technology of automated transportation. He is also noted as a speaker and writer covering copyright law and political and social issues related to computing and networks. He writes and researches the future of automated transportation at Robocars.com