Ever-Evolving Austin: Waymo vs Wammo
Earlier this week, Google revealed its re-branded effort into the self-driving car market. Waymo is now positioned as an independent company within the Alphabet umbrella. According to CEO John Krafcik, the new vehicle has been a long time coming (and a long time testing): “For nearly eight years, we’ve been working towards a future without the tired, drunk or distracted driving that contributes to 1.2 million lives lost on roads every year. Since 2009, our prototypes have spent the equivalent of 300 years of driving time on the road and we’ve led the industry from a place where self-driving cars seem like science fiction to one where city planners all over the world are designing for a self-driven future.”
The new company carries a strong Central Texas tie, as much of the testing occurred in Austin. Wrote Krafcik in a post on Medium: “On October 20, 2015, we completed the world’s first fully-self driven car ride. Steve Mahan rode alone in one of our prototype vehicles, cruising through Austin’s suburbs. Steve is legally blind, so our sensors and software were his chauffeur. His route reflected the way millions of people could use a self-driving car in everyday life: riding from a park to a doctor’s office and through typical neighborhoods.”
Given this local context (as well as the coincidence of like-sounding names), this week’s announcement made me think a lot of the former Austinite known as Wammo. A stalwart of the city’s music scene in the 1980s and 1990s, he has since re-located to Pittsburgh. Statesman writer Marty Toohey wrote about this move in June 2014, citing his departure as one more indicator of the city’s overall transition in culture and tone:
“There was a time Wammo rented an old warehouse space in East Austin for $180 a month, including utilities. Eventually, he married a woman from Pittsburgh, played on the road a lot and grew out of the “Slacker” mindset. “I’m probably making it sound too rosy, because there were tough times, but it still was fun while it lasted,” he said. He doesn’t have a good sense of how prevalent the “Slacker” vibe is in 2014. “I moved to Pittsburgh nearly three years ago,” he said. “Austin just got too expensive.”
If the vibe here has changed from Wammo slacker to Waymo mover over the last 15 years, then I can generally accept this evolution. Yes, I miss the very cheap rent that fostered so much creativity during the boom years of the Austin music scene. Finding more strategies to develop affordable housing for artists (and for the city’s long-time residents who are likewise being squeezed out by the spike in prices) absolutely has to be one of our biggest goals for 2017 and beyond. But the fact that we continue to change and morph and transform is a good thing. If Austin ever quits this process of re-inventing itself (and this process has been happening for many decades now), then that’s when we really have to worry about our future.
Hugh Forrest tries to write four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts generally cover technology-related trends. When not attempting to wordsmith, he serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW in Austin.