Sidewalk Labs CEO battles deadly disease; Alphabet folds unit into Google

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(Reuters) – Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Inc is shutting down Sidewalk Labs after the founder and chief executive of the unit developing smart-city technology disclosed that doctors say he may have the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, a deadly neurodegenerative condition.

Alphabet said its Google unit will take over the Sidewalk Labs projects, which include sensors to send information about available parking spaces to driver apps and to automate building heating and cooling systems for maximum efficiency.

Dan Doctoroff, who previously led financial data company Bloomberg LP, founded Sidewalk Labs in 2015 with encouragement from then-Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt and CEO Larry Page. They had spoken of improving quality of life in urban living by cutting housing costs, increasing safety and improving sustainability.

Sidewalk’s flagship plan had been developing a massive waterfront business district in Toronto to showcase its technologies. But community concerns about surveillance and other issues, along with rising costs, led Sidewalk to drop the idea last year.

In a blog post on Thursday, Doctoroff said doctors believe he likely has ALS. He said he tested negative for a gene mutation that indicates ALS and that had been present in family with the disease, so it is possible “that I have symptoms that mimic ALS but are not ALS.”

Doctoroff said he now plans to focus on raising $250 million for medical research through Target (NYSE:TGT) ALS, a group he founded.

Among several projects Google will take over from Sidewalk include the parking technology Pebble and the low-cost energy tracking system Mesa. A spokesman said the company did not have a transition date to share yet.

“These products will continue to be led by Sidewalk Labs President of Urban Products Prem Ramaswami and Chief Technology Officer Craig Nevill-Manning, both Google alumni, and the teams will continue to execute on their vision and serve customers,” Doctoroff said.

Sidewalk said a nascent venture in developing “mass timber construction” dubbed Canopy Buildings will be spun out into an independent company, joining earlier spinouts Cityblock Health, Replica and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners.