Google’s self-driving car spin-off, Waymo, is said to be launching its own fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans onto public roads later this month. According to TechCrunch, the company’s CEO, John Krafcik, made the announcement at the North American International Auto Show on Sunday.
The minivans are set to drive in Mountain View, California and Phoenix, Arizona. Both places are familiar with Google’s self-driving Lexus SUVs. At its keynote, Waymo showed off the new lineup of self-driving minivans, a Chrysler Pacifica outfitted with sensors all over. It’s the first unveiling of the newfangled vehicles, coming months after the announcement of a Google and Chrysler deal back in May.
Each minivan can fit up to seven passengers at a time, raising the question if Waymo will launch its own ride-hailing service akin to Uber. The self-driving vehicles feature all the standard sensors: cameras, radar, and LIDAR. What’s nice about these, however, is that the tech is deeply integrated into the vehicle’s chassis — the overall look and feel is more polished than say a Uber-modified Volvo.
Waymo also announced its sensors are built in-house, and this means it retains full control over its vehicle’s software and hardware integration. Most competitors, such as Tesla and Uber, require separate companies for their self-driving technology. Waymo has more control, much like Apple with its consumer goods. The maps, sensors, and algorithms are belong to Waymo.
The new in-house sensors are cheaper too. For example, the top-mounted LIDAR would cost Google $75,000 back when it first started testing self-driving vehicles. Krafcik says that cost has been reduced by 90%. Impressive.
The self-driving “Waymobiles” will hit the road later this month. Google has already racked up over 2 million miles with its self-driving cars, giving regulators all the more reason to consider the technology for everyday use.