DETROIT -- John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, formerly known as Google's self-driving car project, said the company's vertically integrated self-driving platform was born when Google engineers "began tinkering."
During a question-and-answer session at the Automotive News World Congress, Krafcik said Waymo's approach to developing a Level 4 self-driving platform -- which requires no human intervention in specified conditions -- with hardware and software developed in-house was motivated by efficiency.
"One of the things we found in working with off-the-shelf hardware that was available at the time was that the software engineers couldn't extract all the performance that they needed. There were also features in the hardware that weren't necessary and added cost," Krafcik said. "So Google engineers started tinkering."
Krafcik introduced the integrated system at the North American International Auto Show on Jan. 8. He said Waymo reduced lidar sensor production costs -- which can total about $75,000 -- by 90 percent.
Though Waymo is developing the technology on its own, Krafcik said on Tuesday, Jan. 10, that the company is open to partnering with suppliers to mass-produce the system.
"I don't think it's necessary that we're going to be the folks actually manufacturing the hardware," he said.
Krafcik also discussed Waymo's strategy to skip Level 2 and Level 3 autonomy, which require more human interaction with the self-driving system. He said Google's Level 2 and Level 3 testing in 2011 and 2012 found that the better the technology, the more relaxed drivers became behind the wheel -- and not in a good way.
"We shut the program down sooner than we had originally anticipated because we saw so much unsafe behavior," Krafcik said. "I don't know if we as an industry are ever really going to truly solve that particular problem."
Waymo will test its technology on public roads by the end of this month, using a fleet of 100 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans -- soon to be expanded by about another 100 units. The company is also using about 30 of its own "Koala" low-speed driverless test cars, and recently reported that it is in discussions with Honda to work with the automaker's vehicles.
Krafcik said that once it hits the market, he wants to ensure Waymo's platform is affordable and accessible to a wide variety of consumers.
"The secret is to use the technology a lot," he said.