Post the formation of an exclusive autonomous driving car company Waymo last week, Google parent Alphabet had reiterated its aggressive focus on self-driving and related technology. Expanding on the same, the new spin-off company has today announced the extension of its partnership with Fiat Chrysler to include 100 Pacifica Hybrid minivans to their vehicle fleet.
The two automobile-focused units have been working on integrating Waymo’s self-driving technology tools including sensors, telematics, onboard computers into Fiat’s Pacifica minivans for the past six months. Engineers from FCA and Waymo have been collaborating to make the minivans completely autonomous by leveraging each company’s individual strengths and resources.
This announcement confirms the evidence of the company starting assembly of self-driving minivans which had surfaced on the interwebs in September. Waymo’s Chrysler Pacificas are based on the new 2017 production model but the companies have made certain modifications to the minivan’s electrical, powertrain, chassis and structural systems. The changes have been done to optimize the hybrid minivan to work seamlessly with the self-driving tech.
Talking about the partnership, John Krafcik, Chief Executive at Waymo, says,
The Pacifica Hybrid will be a great addition to our fully self-driving test fleet. FCA’s product development and manufacturing teams have been agile partners, enabling us to go from program kickoff to full vehicle assembly in just six months. They’ve been great partners, and we look forward to continued teamwork with them as we move into 2017.
Krafcik further continues to explain the purpose of the project in an individual Medium post, where he adds that Google has been testing its technology over a gamut of scenarios including over 200 hours of extreme-weather testing. And their self-driving vehicles has been driven a total of 2 million miles since the testing began in 2012 (considerably less than Tesla Autopilot’s over 200 million miles).
The overall development of these sensor-mounted minivans is being carried out at a Michigan engineering site while extensive testing of these vehicles is happening in Chelsea (Michigan) and Yucca (Arizona) based FCA test sites. Waymo is testing its self-driving Pacifica minivans in California as well.
Sergio Marchionne, Chief Executive at FCA also shares his views on the extended agreement:
Our partnership with Waymo enables FCA to directly address the opportunities and challenges the automotive industry faces as we quickly approach a future where fully self-driving vehicles are very much a part of our daily lives.
The automobile manufacturer has bee working with Alphabet’s spin-off Waymo team for the past one year. Both of them had been building prototype Chrysler Pacifica minivans to conduct on-road tests but this partnership seems to point towards a tighter integration of their self-driving technology. The company is now readying itself to follow nuTonomy and Uber to launch its own public road tests in the U.S. There is also the possibility that Waymo (earlier Google) may launch its own ride-sharing service under its crowd-sourced Waze mapping platform.