Google has ramped up their self-driving project by acquiring an additional 500 Windsor-made Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans. The US tech giants are offering rides to the general public as it continues to carry out initial tests of the technology in the minivans.
Under the arrangements of their collaborative agreement Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has already delivered 100 hybrids, but production will be ramped up - with the addition of 500 minivans being produced by the end of next month. Road tests were initiated earlier this year - in several locations including Arizona, California and Michigan.
Fiat Chrysler CEO, Sergio Marchionne conceded that the collaboration between the two organizations has been fruitful for both. He said: "The collaboration between FCA and Waymo has been advantageous for both companies as we continue to work together to fully understand the steps needed to bring self-driving vehicles to market. The addition of 500 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans is a further acknowledgment of the hard work put forth by both engineering teams."
The hybrid minivans are produced in Windsor, whilst the self-driving hardware from Waymo, which includes sensors and cameras, is added at a facility in Michigan. Waymo and Fiat Chrysler have a group of engineers from both companies working at a site in Michigan to accelerate the overall development process, the automaker said.
Waymo CEO, John Krafcik stated in a statement issued to the press, that both companies were learning how to bring self-driving vehicles to market. He said: "This collaboration is helping both companies learn how to bring self-driving cars to market, and realize the safety and mobility benefits of this technology. The Pacifica is a versatile vehicle for our early rider program, which will give people access to our self-driving fleet to use every day, at any time."
Waymo is encouraging the residents of Phoenix to take rides in the 500 Pacifica's currently on the road - in order to provide them with feedback which will ultimately assist them in improving the self-driving services they're providing. However, Waymo is just the latest company to show its hand in the race to develop self-driving technology.
Uber has had self-driving cars on the road in Pittsburgh since last September, whilst Boston start-up, nuTonomy has been giving taxi-rides to passengers in Singapore and Boston. Waymo said it wants to learn where people want to go in a self-driving vehicle, how they communicate with it and what kinds of information and controls they want.
Michelle Krebs, an executive analyst for the car shopping site Autotrader, says studies have shown that a majority of Americans are still reluctant to ride in a fully self-driving car. Opening Waymo's vehicles to the public will help build riders' confidence, she said.
"The key to acceptance is exposure and education," she said. Ultimately, Waymo says, self-driving cars could prevent many of the 1.2 million deaths that occur on worldwide roads each year.