Alphabet to fold smart city firm Sidewalk Labs into Google

The Google logo displayed on a smartphone resting on a keyboard

Alphabet has said it will fold its smart city project, Sidewalk Labs, into Google to bolster sustainability efforts and also consolidate its loss-making businesses.

The announcement was revealed in a Medium post from Sidewalk founder and CEO Dan Doctoroff, who is stepping down for medical reasons.

Doctoroff said he has been diagnosed with what is thought to be a form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and has made the decision to spend more time with family.

"One unfortunate result of this is that I've decided I have to step down from my role as CEO of Sidewalk Labs," Doctoroff wrote in a blog post.

It's believed the decision to bring Sidewalk Labs back under the Google umbrella has simply coincided with Doctoroff's departure, as he said the company has spent most of the year exploring ways to scale sustainability products at a faster rate.

Sidewalk Labs is described as an 'urban planing and infrastructure' company that aims to improve residential areas with technology. Its main products - Pebble, Mesa, Delve and Affordable Electrification - are being incorporated into Google as "core" products under its urban sustainability efforts.

A number of the Sidewalk Labs leadership team will stay in place, such as Prem Ramaswami, the president of urban products, and chief technology officer Craig Nevill-Manning, but they will no longer fall under the leadership of Doctoroff. It's currently unclear who will replace Doctoroff as CEO.

"I leave Sidewalk having complete confidence that our impact will increase exponentially," Doctoroff said. "While I will dearly miss working with the incomparable Sidewalk Labs team, I couldn't be more excited to see Google accelerate the development of our products and technology to achieve their sustainability mission - not a moment too soon for the world."

Google has become very vocal about its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and support environmental protection. However it has also seen a number of so-called Moonshots and "other bets", like Loon and Waymo, struggle to generate money.

Loon, a project that used balloons to provide internet to remote regions, was shut down last year due to a lack of use cases, whereas Waymo appears to need further outside investment.

Sidewalk Labs appears to be the latest venture to move under Google due to disappointing performance. The firm's flagship project was a "smart district" in Toronto, Canada that was somewhat marred in controversy over the privacy of residents. The Canadian government were even threatened with legal action by a civil liberties group over plans to redevelop the Toronto Waterfront site as a 'Smart Neighbourhood'.

The organisation was concerned that residents would be subject to increased surveillance, due to the technology being used, and that the information would be shared with a non-governmental entity - in this case, Google. The project was eventually withdrawn in 2020 due to economic uncertainty brought on by the pandemic.

Bobby Hellard

Bobby Hellard is ITPro's Reviews Editor and has worked on CloudPro and ChannelPro since 2018. In his time at ITPro, Bobby has covered stories for all the major technology companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, and regularly attends industry-leading events such as AWS Re:Invent and Google Cloud Next.

Bobby mainly covers hardware reviews, but you will also recognize him as the face of many of our video reviews of laptops and smartphones.