Eight months after its formation, Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet, is announcing its first slate of executive hires, offering the most insight to date into the ambitious business hatched by Alphabet chief Larry Page and his handpicked CEO, Dan Doctoroff.
Surprise! Some Googlers are involved.
Two of the four incoming execs for Sidewalk come from the search engine, including Craig Nevill-Manning, a 16-year Google veteran who opened the company’s first remote engineering office in Manhattan. The Alphabet startup believes that more digital technologies, like sensors and autonomous vehicles, will alter the way cities plan and spend money. Nevill-Manning, the new CTO, will lead its engineering team, whose directive is to do things to cater to these changes.
“There is a wide gulf behind the technologists and the urbanists, people who run cities. Cities are hard. They’re complex organisms,” Doctoroff told Re/code. “We see our mission to sit in the middle of that.”
To do so, Doctoroff has recruited from both sides of the aisle. (Though one gender side; all the execs are male, but there are several women on the senior team.) The company’s four divisions are set up to create and implement what Doctoroff calls a “compelling platform” for cities.
Anand Babu, a Googler who led one of the company’s nebulous projects on urban transportation, is Sidewalk’s chief operating officer, running a team to deploy the products the engineering unit builds. Josh Sirefman, a veteran of multiple major urban development projects (and former chief of staff to Doctoroff when he was New York City deputy mayor), is joining as chief development officer — the exec tasked with tying the tech to the knotty world of city government.
Rohit Aggarwala, another former NYC official who has led Sidewalk’s policy efforts, as we reported earlier, is now officially its chief policy officer.
The company is still small — around 20 staffers — but Doctoroff claimed that it will grow, adding to these four divisions as well as a unit for investing in urban tech startups.
“What we’re doing is building an interdisciplinary team that is really uniquely equipped to build products for cities,” he said.
Doctoroff shared a morsel of what, precisely, those products would be.
Think futuristic transit. In December, the Department of Transportation issued its “Smart City Challenge,” a grant competition for local governments that draw up clever tech applications. Sidewalk is working with 10 cities to develop winning ideas. (Doctoroff would not share which ones, but said they do not include NYC, where his company is based.) Those concepts include tools that collect real-time data to inform city decisions like traffic management and street design.
The Sidewalk exec also touched upon the opportunities to revamp urban planning when self-driving cars arrive. It’s a concept — along with the spread of sharing-economy platforms — that he has suggested before as the model for the company.
For the DOT projects and other future products, Doctoroff said Sidewalk may lean on its one public initiative — LinkNYC, the ad-subsidized public Wi-Fi in NYC. “Obviously,” he added, “we’d leverage the relationship with Google in a number of different ways, as well.”
Several enterprise tech companies — such as IBM, Cisco and, more recently, Salesforce — have tried to capitalize on the data flowing through cities, with moderate success. Doctoroff insisted that Sidewalk is different, namely for its creation of a broad tech “platform.”
To earn revenue, the Sidewalk CEO said they could sell the platform or individual tech products on a subscription, fee or commission model to city governments or interested private parties. “It probably won’t be just one,” he said.
One commercial model that won’t be? The Alphabet firm cashing in on its advice alone. “We don’t want to be a consultant,” Doctoroff insisted.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.