Google X's Self-Driving Car unit hires Airbnb's Shaun Stewart

Google X's Self-Driving Car unit hired high-level Airbnb executive, Shaun Stewart, in a move that underlined the Alphabet Inc project's transition from R&D initiative to commercial operation.

Stewart, who was global head of vacation rentals for Airbnb, was now a director for the Google X programme.

He takes charge after former chief technology officer Chris Urmson's decision to leave Google earlier this month. Stewart was especially experienced in the hospitality business as, prior to Airbnb, he was vice president for sales and operations at TripAdvisor's Jetsetter unit.

Confirmation of the hiring of Stewart which was earlier reported by Reuters came from Google X, spokesperson Johnny Luu.

The search company had been road testing robotic vehicles for over six years, but had to yet offer a clear timetable or plan to turn the well-funded programme into a revenue-generating business. The hiring of John Krafcik, as chief of the self-driving car business was the first pointer to the direction in which the effort was transitioning. The automotive executive with decades of industry experience was hired in September 2015.

Google entered into a deal with automaker FCA to get a supply of hybrid Chrysler Pacifica minivans for the next generation of its automated test fleet, earlier this year.

Stewart would report directly to former Krafcik as the company prepared to push ahead with the project.

According to commentators, it was an unusual move, bringing someone who had primarily worked in the online travel industry, for a robotics project.

However the company had had unconventional leaders before. And Stewart's background suggested the car team was pinning down a viable business model.

If Google X took an Airbnb-like online rental approach, it would not be the only outfit going down that path, according to commentators.

Nick Sampson, the head of research and development at Faraday Future, Tesla's purported rival had had spoken about ''subscription model'' when the company unveiled their concept car at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2015.