Just days after Google’s autonomous vehicle project became an autonomous tech company dubbed as Waymo Inc., the company now unveiled its first fully self-driving vehicles in the guise of 100 driverless Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans.
Back in May 2016, Waymo – then known as the Google Self-Driving Project – and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles entered into a partnership in which the carmaker would provide a number of vehicles to the project. The partners saw it fitting to choose Chrysler’s new 2017 Pacifica Hybrid minivans – 100 of them -- for the self-driving vehicle project. The Pacifica Hybrid minivans were specifically built by Chrysler to be fitted with the latest of Google’s hardware and software.
While these Chrysler Pacifica units are based on the 2017 production model available to the market, the carmaker modified them – including their chassis, powertrain, structural and electrical systems – so that Waymo could properly install its own technology into these new minivans.
Then, intensive and grueling work began. However, it didn’t take long for Waymo to complete the installation of its hardware and software into the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans. Waymo fitted these minivans with its own onboard computer, power and sensors as well as telematics. The autonomous tech company converted some of these minivans into early prototypes that were made to undergo an array of tests on Waymo’s test track in California, and on FCA’s Chelsea Proving Grounds in Chelsea, Michigan, as well as on the carmaker’s Arizona Proving Grounds in Yucca. Waymo commenced production of the fully autonomous Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid in October.
Within just six months, Waymo completed the whole self-driving Pacifica Hybrid project. Waymo is hoping to bring these fully autonomous Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids to public roads in 2017, although it has yet to officially unveil these vehicles. Waymo is expected to bring these autonomous Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids to the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada on January 5 to 8, 2017.
Waymo – which stands for a new Way forward in Mobility – unveiled the world’s first fully autonomous car in October 2015. Although that was a prototype, it proved that fully autonomous vehicles are not far off from being a reality.
With the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, Waymo is making true to its promise of concentrating its strengths on forging or deepening its partnerships with existing carmakers like FCA. People privy with Google said that Waymo and FCA are planning to start a ride-sharing service using the carmaker’s semi-autonomous Pacifica minivans in late 2017. This may mean that aside from the 100 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans provided by FCA, more vehicles would be needed in order to fully realize a ride-sharing service.
Waymo chief executive John Krafcik remarked that the company’s technology would be useful in personal vehicles, ride-sharing and logistics. As of the end of June 2016, the project had around 58 prototype cars being tested on the road. The addition of 100 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids would bring the number to around 158.