How Google's parent company is paving the way to become a transportation giant through deals and internal projects
- Alphabet is "already is a superpower in transportation" and it has its sights set to the future, too.
- The company has made transportation investments of all sorts, through funding arms as well as subsidiary companies.
Electric scooters, self-driving vehicles, and flying cars: No matter what the future of transportation is, Alphabet wants to be involved.
Earlier this week, The Financial Times reported that the holding company directly invested in electric-scooter startup Lime, even as its venture capital arm, GV, led the startup’s funding round.
This news brings together two striking things about Alphabet: That it has an unusually high number of concurrent investment vehicles and that it has found a hefty handful of different ways to ensure that it plays a role in the future of transportation.
“Not only is Alphabet interested in this space, it already is a superpower in transportation,” Mike Ramsey, a Gartner research director who focuses on mobility, tells CNBC.
Here’s a look at the many ways that Alphabet has focused on the way people get around:
Alphabet’s investment arms
Alphabet was the most active corporate investor last year, making more than 100 deals, through both direct investments and its three venture funding arms: GV, for early-stage companies; CapitalG, for growth-stage investments; and Gradient, for artificial intelligence related startups.
Through these investments, Alphabet is backing a wide-range of transportation technologies. GV was an early investor in Uber, while CapitalG has invested in Lyft, which have plans for bikes and scooters, and, .
Earlier this year, Gradient poured money into Scotty Labs, which makes a platform for remotely controlling self-driving cars.
Besides Lime, the company has also directly invested in Southeast Asian ride-hailing startup GoJek and Elon Musk's rocket company SpaceX.
The Maps backbone
The most obvious way that Alphabet makes its mark in the transportation world is through Google Maps.
More than 55 percent of smartphone users in the U.S. use Maps, according to comScore, and it has more than one billion monthly active users worldwide relying on it for walking, vehicle, or public transportation directions.
Google currently lets Uber and Lyft advertise their prices through Maps, and it’s not hard to imagine it opening up to on-demand bikes, scooters, and, eventually, self-driving cars.
“I would be surprised if Alphabet doesn’t aggressively pursue a transportation platform offering that ties together multiple modes of transportation with Google Maps at its center,” Ramsey says.
Meanwhile, Google also runs , which it acquired in 2013 for roughly $1 billion. (One big difference between Maps and Waze is that the latter lets any user add information about construction, police, or traffic.) There’s also Android Automotive, which embeds Google’s operating system and apps directly into cars (it has signed the likes of Volvo and Audi as partners).
Google’s gobs of mapping data have also helped it become one of the leaders in self-driving cars, which brings us to the next big way that Alphabet’s investing in transportation:
The ‘Other Bets’
Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving business unit, is one of the few of its many that analysts and investors are .
Waymo plans to launch its before the end of the year and is widely seen as having an early lead in the space.
Another Other Bet, , is also thinking about the future of urban transportation. The company’s overall goal is to reinvent cities through technology, which includes a centralized mobility platform called Coord that Sidewalk spun-out and invested in.
The founders have pet projects, too
Because all that apparently isn’t enough, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have both made their own personal investments in the future of transportation, too.
Kitty Hawk, Page's company, is creating flying cars that look like a cross between a pontoon plane and a drone, while Brin is reportedly building a high-tech blimp.
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