Could Google be losing its way as a leader in autonomous driving technology? The tech giant lost Chris Urmson, the head of its self-driving car project, in August. Two of its other key engineers, Jiajun Zhu and Dave Ferguson, left around the same time. More significantly, Google has struggled to achieve a breakthrough in its strategy to commercialise the new technologies.
Other industry players have commented that Google needs a strategy and a partner to push its project forwards. At the moment it has no clear path to market. On top of this, the company's risk appetite for speculative ventures has reduced. Google and its parent Alphabet have become more cautious about releasing new technologies at an early stage - projects need to demonstrate their potential for profitability to continue to gain funding, and the push towards autonomous vehicles hasn't achieved this yet.
Google's self-driving division has been valued at $10 billion and it remains a huge force to be reckoned with in the fast-developing world of autonomous vehicles. But these recent difficulties underline the fact that the market for self-driving cars is far from fully-formed. We can expect to see major partnership deals take shape as technology enablers, vehicle manufacturers, network providers and others converge to establish routes to market. Acquisitions and disposals will be an attractive option for companies that can't achieve a strong enough market position by themselves. This will make the coming years an exciting time for technology-oriented deal-makers.
Once considered a leader in the field, Google has lost its first-mover advantage to other companies pursuing more practical, less-ambitious self-driving car services, said former members of the project and other people familiar with the situation.