The tech giant, Google will work directly with a major automaker, Chrysler for the first time as it announced plans to bring its self-driving technology to about 100 Chrysler minivans. The tech company will use the Pacifica hybrids to more than double the size of its test fleet, which operates in four U.S. cities and has driven more than 1.5 million miles autonomously.
Fiat Chrysler will lead on the design and engineering of about 100 minivans built specifically for Google’s technology. Google engineers will join the automaker’s engineers at a Michigan facility to collaborate on designing the van so that Google’s self-driving sensors can be easily integrated. Google has used Toyota Priuses and Lexus SUVs for test purposes, but those vehicles were modified after production with cameras and sensors that added bulk and protruded from the vehicle’s form.
Google portrayed the selection of a minivan as a way to test a larger vehicle that will be easier for passengers to enter and exit. Previously it has tested sedans and SUVs. Google executives have previously suggested the possibility of offering the self-driving technology as service, rather than the traditional vehicle ownership model. A minivan that seats seven passengers would offer flexibility if Google wants to launch a taxi service. And as more passengers ride in a vehicle at once, Google could lower what it charges customers.
The partnership is a reminder of Google’s interest in working with the auto industry to bring self-driving technology to roads. While Google is widely viewed as the leader in the software needed for autonomous vehicles, it lacks experience manufacturing vehicles.
“The opportunity to work closely with FCA engineers will accelerate our efforts to develop a fully self-driving car that will make our roads safer and bring everyday destinations within reach for those who cannot drive,” said John Krafcik, chief executive of Google’s Self-Driving Car Project, in a statement.
There are limits to the collaboration between the two sides. Google will still install the self-driving technology, such as cameras, radar and software, on its own. Google will own the vehicles and will not share data from its tests with Chrysler.
Fiat Chrysler Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne characterized the partnership as a chance to accelerate innovation in the automotive industry by working with a leading tech company.
Google said it hopes the first few minivans will be on the road by year’s end.
By Matt McFarland via The Washington Post
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