In the last couple of months, Google’s self-driving division made news a number of times. First off, the team was restructured into its own company with the express aim of commercializing the self-driving technology it had been studying for years. Not long after, Waymo, as the Alphabet autonomous vehicle subsidiary is called, unveiled its first self-driving vehicle under the new name, saying it would launch sometime in 2017.
Now, the company is announcing that the time is nearly here and that its self-driving van will launch later this month.
The company’s fleet of 100 autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans will hit the streets of Mountain View, California and Phoenix, Arizona before the end of January. Those following Google/Alphabet’s efforts in this field will note that the company already has a number of autonomous Lexus SUVs being tested on those same roads. But what sets the Chrysler Pacifica minivans apart is that these are the first vehicles to feature self-driving hardware built by Waymo in-house.
John Krafcik, Waymo’s CEO, explained the company’s efforts:
As we get fully self-driving cars ready for the road, we’ll need more types of vehicles to refine and test our advanced driving software. That’s why in May we teamed up with FCA to work on adding 100 self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans to Waymo’s fleet. With this great new minivan on the road in our test markets, we’ll learn how people of all ages, shapes, and group sizes experience our fully self-driving technology.
As Krafcik makes clear, Waymo has a long way to go and catch up to some of its rivals in the autonomous vehicle market. While Google paved the way in this field with its research, other companies like Tesla and Uber have been quickly gathering miles in the real world on their odometers, miles used to improve their tech. If Waymo wants to be a market leader it must do the same and that’s where this new fleet of cars will come in.