Waymo, the automotive venture nurtured by Google and its Alphabet holding company, says it’ll start test-driving its autonomous minivans on public roads in Arizona and California later this month.
The company’s specially modified Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid was among the stars of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Sunday when it shared the stage with Waymo CEO John Krafcik. Waymo, which was spun off from Alphabet’s X lab just last month, outfitted 100 of the minivans with a sensor system that was developed in-house for self-driving applications.
About 100 more may join the fleet this year, Bloomberg News reported.
The minivans on the roads in the Phoenix and Mountain View areas will build on almost 2.5 million miles that Waymo has racked up using other vehicles, including its own Firefly prototype and converted Lexus RX450h SUVs. The self-driving Lexus vehicles have been road-tested in Kirkland, Wash., and Austin, Texas, as well as in Mountain View.
Krafcik said the minivans are “capable of getting you door to door without a person at the wheel,” although the steering wheels will remain in the vehicles to satisfy regulations on California and other states.
Waymo is expected to make autonomous vehicles available for ride-hailing services, perhaps by the end of this year.
In addition to its partnership with Fiat Chrysler, the company is reportedly talking with Honda about a separate self-driving collaboration. And last week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Fiat Chrysler unveiled an all-electric Portal concept car that’s suitable for self-driving applications.
Automakers’ interest in autonomous vehicles is heating up so quickly that it’s hard to keep track of all the self-driving cars without a program. Here’s just a sampling of the projects in development:
- Audi is working with the chipmaker Nvidia to produce an advanced autonomous car by 2020.
- BMW is working on a self-driving, electric, connected car called iNEXT that’s scheduled for release in 2021.
- Ford is planning to mass-produce autonomous vehicles for ride-hailing services by 2021.
- GM is producing a fleet of autonomous Chevy Bolt electric cars for testing on public roads around Detroit.
- Nissan is working on self-driving cars that can be controlled by remote operators in the event of an emergency (with an assist from Microsoft).
- Tesla, arguably the pioneer in the autonomous-vehicle field, is upgrading its Autopilot feature with the aim of reaching full autonomy.
- Toyota has unveiled a prototype vehicle called Concept-i, featuiring an AI agent that’s designed to build a “meaningful” relationship with the car’s driver.
- Volvo is working with the Uber ride-sharing service on a self-driving experiment in Pittsburgh, and soon in Arizona as well (after Uber hit a roadblock in California)..