Waymo, The self-driving subsidiary of parent Alphabet Inc., is considered by many to be the leading company working on self-driving cars. The company’s fleet of autonomous vehicles have driven over 20 million miles on public roads, all of them without a major accident.
Now the person responsible for safety at Waymo is departing the company. Debbie Hersman, is stepping down from her role as Waymo’s Chief Safety Officer. Her departure was first reported by The Information. However, Waymo said that she will remain as a consultant to the autonomous driving technology company.
“We can confirm that Debbie has decided to return to her family home on the east coast and will continue on as a consultant to Waymo,” the company said in a statement.
Hersman was a former board member of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and served as its 12th chairman for five years. After leaving the NTSB, she was hired as president and CEO of the National Safety Council in 2014, before joining Waymo in early 2019 to oversee Waymo’s product safety program.
Hersman’s former colleagues praised her work at the National Safety Council.
“Debbie has always been a strong champion for safety, and she is perfectly positioned to lead Waymo through the next phase of their self-driving vehicle program said Board Chairman Mark Vergnano.” in Nov 2018.
A Waymo spokeswoman also praised Hersman for “leading the growth of the safety team, establishing Waymo’s safety board as we responsibly progress our technology, and championing Waymo’s culture of safety.”
Tracy Murrell, Waymo’s head of safety and sustainability, will take over as the company’s interim head of safety while Waymo looks for a permanent replacement.
Waymo sprung out of Google’s early self-driving car program over a decade ago. Google was one of the first companies to commit to building driverless cars, and the company has made great strides in the development of self-driving and the related technology, which was made possible with the financial backing of Google, now known as Alphabet. Waymo hired dozens of engineers specializing in robotics, AI and machine learning to support its efforts.
Waymo is developing an autonomous ride-hailing service called Waymo One that works like Uber, only the vehicles are self-driving. Riders will soon be able to summon a self-driving Waymo vehicle from a smartphone app.
Waymo is currently testing the service in a pilot program in the Phoenix, Arizona Metro Area as part of its “Early Rider’ program and has plans to expand the service to other cities, including San Francisco.
In Oct 2019, Waymo CEO John Krafcik confirmed the company was offering limited “rider-only” trips in Phoenix, Arizona without a safety driver behind the wheel.
Waymo is also working on self-driving trucks for the shipping industry in a program called Waymo Via.
Earlier this month, Waymo announced it raised another $750 million its its first ever outside investment round. This is on top of the $2.25 billion that Waymo raised in early March, totaling $3 billion so far this year.
“As we continue to advance the World’s Most Experienced Driver — the Waymo Driver — we’ll use this injection of capital to deepen our investment in our people, our technology, and our Waymo One and Waymo Via operations,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing its latest funding.