Waymo, Google’s renamed autonomous car project, is preparing to test self-driving minivans after taking a delivery of about 100 modified Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans. Last week, Google parent Alphabet announced that the self-driving car project would be renamed Waymo and become a stand-alone division.
Waymo’s fleet gets 100 autonomous Pacifica minivans
Chrysler’s 100 autonomous Pacifica minivans will join the Waymo fleet early next year. The minivans are part of the partnership between Waymo and Fiat Chrysler (FCA) that was announced earlier this year. The minivans were built at Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s assembly plant in Windsor, Ontario. The minivans were modified and designed by engineers from Waymo and the car company over the last six months.
John Krafcik, chief executive officer of Waymo, said, “With this great new minivan on the road in our test markets, we’ll learn how people of all ages, shapes and group sizes experience our full self-driving technology.”
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Waymo and FCA engineers modified the electrical, chassis, structural and powertrain systems of the Pacificas to build the minivan for self-driving tech. The companies have been testing prototype Pacificas at FCA’s Chelsea Proving Grounds in Michigan and Arizona Proving Grounds in Yucca, Arizona, and also at Waymo’s facilities in California, notes The Verge. The trials included about 200 hours of “extreme-weather testing.”
Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler, said their partnership with Waymo allows FCA to directly address the challenges and opportunities the car industry faces as they quickly approach a future in which fully automated cars are very much a part of daily life.
Waymo aims to make “better drivers,” not “better cars”
Last week, Krafcik said his company is not interested in making better cars but instead wants to make better drivers. The company has been testing various prototype Pacificas, but these new vans seem to have a tighter integration of Waymo’s self-driving hardware than previous prototypes, notes The Verge.
Waymo’s CEO has said that this division will develop autonomous driving technology that will be incorporated into cars built by automakers. Waymo has not yet indicated when it expects its tech to become part of a truck or car that will be sold to the public. In addition, it has not yet announced which car company will be the first to include its technology in new cars.
According to Bloomberg, FCA and Waymo may even be working together on an autonomous ride-sharing service which could come as soon as late 2017. The self-driving minivans should hit the roads early next year, probably in Waymo’s test markets in Washington, Arizona, Texas and California.