Waymo has signed an agreement to work with Renault and Nissan on issues surrounding self-driving car technology, the companies said Thursday. The partnership, which the companies call a “first step,” doesn’t currently include immediate plans to launch Waymo self-driving vehicles in France or Japan. Instead, the companies will work together to “research commercial, legal and regulatory issues related to driverless transportation-as-a-service offerings in France and Japan,” according to a joint press release.
What exactly does that mean? Clearly, Waymo brings the tech expertise, and Renault and Nissan bring the manufacturing know-how, plus some insider knowledge about local laws and politics. Both want to figure out how to one day turn autonomous vehicles into a viable, money-making business. But like most self-driving vehicle partnerships—and particularly those involving involving Waymo, Alphabet’s autonomous vehicle tech company—the whole thing is still a bit mysterious.
For one, the companies call the agreement “exclusive,” but each has plenty of other robot tech work going on. Nissan has its own semi-automated driver-assistance feature called ProPilot Assist and is working internally to put autonomous vehicles on public roads by 2020. Renault is part of a multi-organization French autonomous lab project, which is experimenting with self-driving vehicles. Waymo, meanwhile, uses custom-made Fiat Chrysler and Jaguar Land Rover vehicles to test its driverless software in the US. A Waymo spokesperson said the exclusivity in this new deal pertains to territory, which would appear to bar Waymo from working with any other companies in France or Japan, at least for now.
In Thursday’s announcement, Nissan and Renault said they plan to create joint venture companies in France and Japan dedicated to robotic vehicle development, although the longevity of the three-way partnership is unclear. It will exist for what the parties are calling “an initial period,” which indicates it has an end date. Spokespeople for Waymo and Renault declined to say when that might be.
The Waymo spokesperson also called the agreement “a first step, [and] an initial piece of the partnership,” seeming to suggest that it might expand in the future—perhaps by Waymo deploying self-driving tech on Nissan and Renault cars in Japan and France, or perhaps even beyond those countries’ borders.
A spokesperson from Nissan did not respond to a request for comment.
As in the US, there are plenty of regulatory, legal, and commercial issues to be ironed out by autonomous vehicle developers in other countries. The Japanese government has said it wants self-driving vehicles in the country by 2020, in time for the Tokyo Olympics, and the Japanese Diet amended some of its road laws last month to allow vehicles with some automated features to operate in a limited capacity on some roads. The French government has said it wants self-driving tech by 2020 or 2022, and legislation to allow some autonomous vehicles in the country is currently in the works.
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