Google’s vision of an autonomous future has a new name Waymo. And as part of the spin-off the company has rolled out the first of its trial fleet in the shape of a specially prepared Chrysler Pacifica minivan.
Technically Waymo is a business unit of Alphabet, the parent company which controls Google, and the new business unit inherits the knowledge and experience that comes from Google’s two million miles of real-world driving and one billion miles of simulations.
While Google’s koala-faced, steering wheel and pedal-free self-driving prototype, first revealed in 2015, remains the poster-child for Waymo, the real heavy lifting will be carried out by a newly unveiled fleet of Chrysler Pacifica people movers, developed in collaboration with Fiat Chrysler.
From early 2017, Chrysler will begin production of a fleet of 100 Pacifica Hybrid vans, fitted with Waymo’s array of sensors, telematics, and other systems to enable driverless operation, whilst carrying over Chrysler’s plug-in hybrid drive system allowing up to 53km of electric range.
Waymo and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) established a joint engineering facility in Michigan to integrate Waymo’s technology with the Pacifica’s electrical, powertrain, and chassis systems.
“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,” said Waymo Cheif Executive Officer, John Krafcik.
Prior to the unveiling of the Waymo-prepared Pacifica fleet, testing took place at FCA’s proving grounds in Chelsea, Michigan and Yucca, Arizona, as well as selected Waymo test sites in California.
The aim of the trial program is to allow self driving vehicle to better understand real-world situations, and better integrate with the on-road behaviours of human drivers in an effort to drastically reduce the 1.2 million motor-vehicle related deaths that occur globally each year.