Jun 27, 2019

Scoop: Waymo hires former Anki engineers to lead truck efforts

Photo: Waymo

In one fell swoop, Waymo hired 13 robotics experts from defunct consumer robot maker Anki, including co-founder and former CEO Boris Sofman, to lead its nascent trucking initiative.

Why it matters: Waymo, a leader in robo-taxi development, wants to adapt its self-driving technology to other platforms, including commercial trucks. The hiring of Sofman and his all-star engineering team from Anki could accelerate that effort.

The big picture: Truck drivers are in short supply, which is why start-ups like TuSimple and Embark along with established trucking giants like Daimler and Volvo Group are racing to develop commercial trucks that can drive themselves.

  • Waymo has also been working in this space, but has been fairly quiet about its progress.
  • The company recently resumed testing in Arizona, after completing a pilot in Atlanta delivering goods for Google’s logistics team.

Details: Sofman will report to Waymo CTO Dmitri Dolgov and lead Waymo’s commercial truck efforts from San Francisco.

  • Sofman is not new to self-driving cars. As a student at Carnegie Mellon University, he worked with some Waymo alumni in the AV labs.
  • The group includes 5 PhD engineers, mostly from CMU's famed robotics program, as well as Stanford, MIT and Georgia Tech. 

Background: Anki was a high-profile consumer robotics startup that came out of Carnegie Mellon University's robotics program. Despite $200 million in funding, the company folded in April, laying off its entire staff after failing to raise additional capital.

What to watch: Dolgov talked about Waymo's wider ambitions at MIT Tech Review’s EmTech Digital conference in March.

  • “Our goal is not to build a car, we’re really building a driver. You can put this driver into all kinds of commercial applications, from ride-hailing, trucking, deliveries, connecting people to public transit and personally-owned vehicles."
  • "The nice thing about all those properties is that while the specialization layers are very different, the core technology, and the hardest problems that you’re trying to solve on research and engineering are exactly the same.” 

Go deeper

Schiff demands that Grenell explain Trump's purge of inspectors general

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, sent a letter to the acting Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell on Tuesday demanding he turn over documents explaining his management of the intelligence community amid concerns of the politicalization of the agency.

Why it matters: The letter, which calls for a response by April 16, comes as President Trump continues his purge of inspectors general across the federal government that he deems disloyal to his administration.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 1,390,511— Total deaths: 79,091 — Total recoveries: 295,696Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 379,965 — Total deaths: 11,851 — Total recoveries: 20,090Map.
  3. Trump administration latest: Trump removes watchdog overseeing rollout of $2 trillion coronavirus bill
  4. Federal government latest: Senate looks to increase coronavirus relief for small businesses this week. — Testing capacity is still lagging far behind demand.
  5. World update: China reopens Wuhan after 10-week coronavirus lockdown
  6. 🎧 Podcast: The race to reopen America
  7. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal health. Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

China reopens Wuhan after 10-week coronavirus lockdown

People wearing facemasks stand near Yangtze River in Wuhan. Photo: Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images

China has lifted its lockdown of Wuhan, the city in Hubei province where the coronavirus outbreak was first reported in December, according to the New York Times.

Why it matters: As cases surged in January, China took the draconian step of sealing off the city of 11 million and shutting down its economy — a response that was viewed at the time as only possible in an authoritarian system, but which has since been adopted by governments around the world.