Last week, the Alphabet group announced the loss of 12,000 jobs, or 6% of its workforce, across several subsidiaries and in different countries, without giving further details.
We now know that some of these layoffs concern Waymo, the Alphabet subsidiary dedicated to autonomous driving. The news leaked Monday in the American media The Information (often well informed), and confirms what was also relayed on Linkedin and Blind by former employees. The cuts would apply to positions of engineers working on perception and movement control, recruiters, but also technicians managing the fleet and vehicles.
A source would even have told TechCrunch that the company is preparing to close Waymo Via, its service dedicated to the autonomous transport of goods. Which she denied, saying she was staying”fully committed to developing this solution”.
Lots of expenses and little income
These layoffs in tech are becoming almost innocuous and Google has also made deep cuts in its workforce. But it could be that the problem is deeper with Waymo.
The company had 2,500 employees, making it Alphabet’s largest non-Google entity in terms of headcount. Expenses that are added to those related to the development of patented equipment, to the processing of data that feeds the automatic learning models of the driving system… Not to mention the repair costs related to damage caused by possible accidents. The last made public, involving a semi-trailer, dates from last May.
However, Waymo does not generate enough revenue to cover these costs. Its robot taxi services, deployed in California and Arizona, remain at the stage of pilot projects with limited scope. Waymo recently opened up self-driving rides to the Phoenix airport to the public, but large-scale industrialization is not on the cards at this time.
A sector in difficulty
Autonomous driving is a complex and expensive technology, the deployment of which has stalled for several years, stopping at tests in closed environments. Companies in this niche are struggling to pass the significant technological level of putting autonomous vehicles into circulation on roads open to traffic.
After years of broken promises from each other, we are beginning (investors in particular) to wonder whether what seemed very promising in 2010 really has a commercial future… At the end of 2022, the liquidation of Argo AI represented a first distress signal from the market. The company was developing an autonomous driving system that was backed by billions of dollars from Ford and Volkswagen. If Waymo has long seemed far ahead of the competition, its future now seems just as uncertain.
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