A number of self-driving startups, including Aurora and Zoox, were essentially following in Waymo’s footsteps, hoping to capture a share of the market Waymo was trying to create. Zoox’s pitch to investors was that it could create a better self-driving experience if it built its own cars in addition to sensors and software. Aurora was co-founded by Chris Urmson, previously the head of Google’s self-driving car project. It aimed to develop a self-driving stack it could license to automakers as they scrambled to respond to Waymo’s expected commercial launch.
As it turned out, the automakers didn’t need to scramble. At its 2018 launch, Waymo’s service in suburban Phoenix had safety drivers behind the wheel, wasn’t open to the general public, and almost certainly wasn’t profitable. Eighteen months later, the program is still limited to a small portion of the Phoenix metro area.