Bloomberg Business is reporting today that Google's long-running self-driving car project will spin out as its own company under Google parent Alphabet next year. To that end, it'll have to start making money at some point — and that may come from a ride-hailing service using the vehicles, which Bloomberg says is also in the cards. The system, which would have "a range of large and small vehicles," would reportedly most likely start in small, contained areas — campuses, for instance — presumably because they're easier to manage, simpler to program for, and may not come with the licensing requirements of a full-scale deployment on public roads.
The suggestion that Google's autonomous cars would be used for hailing rides isn't a new one, but this is the first time that a plan appears to be coming together to actually make it happen. Self-driving cabs are seen as a holy grail by some — none more than Uber, which counts Alphabet's own Google Ventures as a major investor. Elevating Google's self-driving car program to a self-sustained Alphabet company might help put some distance between two initiatives that have been viewed by some as a conflict of interest. (Uber has its own self-driving research projects underway, independent of Google, and CEO Travis Kalanick has said that he'd like to use Teslas; Elon Musk has done little to smack down suggestions of an eventual partnership.)
Campus-wide ride-hailing would also be a way for Google's cars to get millions of additional miles under their belt and start to learn about consumers' preferences and concerns when being picked up by an adorable little driverless car. Many companies are looking at the next decade for wide-scale commercialization of autonomous cars on real-world expressways and city streets, but companies like Alphabet, Apple, and Uber will need to start somewhere — and those efforts appear to be coming sooner rather than later.
Google has not yet responded to a request for comment.