Towards the end of last year, we’ve been expecting Google to subside its self-driving efforts but it surprised everyone with the formation of a spin-off startup called Waymo. This was followed by the unveiling of the fleet of Fiat Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans retrofitted with their self-driving hardware toolkit.
Today, at the North American Auto Show’s Automobili-D conference, Waymo’s CEO John Krafcik delivered a keynote address talking about their project’s technology, progress, and public trials. He started off by revealing that the company is working on the all-round development of its self-driving technology in-house at its headquarters.
This means Waymo is not only developing the software to accompany its self-driving tech but is also building all the sensors, cameras, and LiDAR technology to integrate with its autonomous vehicles. Krafcik on stage claimed that Waymo is the singular company to hold control over most of their self-driving technology stack as compared to any other player in the market. But that’s not the biggest return they gained with the said approach.
The extensive focus on research and development (R&D) on the complete stack within the company itself enabled them to cut the expense of procuring individual sensors. This, he said, is one of the biggest problems that plagues the autonomous driving industry and the mode of their operation will enable others to expedite their efforts as well.
Due to the same, Waymo itself has been able to shave off over 90 percent of the costs with the decision of building their own sensors. For example, earlier Google had to shell out a hefty $75,000 to purchase a LiDAR sensor from its partners in 2009. The same now retails for $7,999 but it is developing one in-house for as low as $7,500.
But, building its own hardware suite alongside the software one has also enabled the self-driving company to improve the specifications of its sensors, radars, and cameras. Each of the individual components have received a performance upgrade per se, where each of them now provides better resolution, sensing distance and accuracy as compared to third-party hardware components.
Krafcik further continued by adding that the in-house R&D team has expanded the vision of its autonomous cars by churning out two new short and long LiDAR sensors. This, he suggests, will enable the minivans to see objects close to the car and spot tiny objects at a far away distance as well. The in-house development will also enable Waymo to reduce its development cycle by fine-tuning both the hardware and software to their liking at any time.
In addition, the company has finally also revealed a tentative time period for the start of their own public self-driving road tests. The hybrid minivans are expected to hit the roads in Mountain View, California (not so sure due to its strange permit/law requirements), and Phoenix later this month. Google has already expedited these cities to cover thousands of miles using the Lexus SUVs in the past few years. And now it is looking to one-up their data collection and observations, thanks to the redesigned sensor suite.