Earlier this year, Waymo, the Google spin-off company (former Google’s self-driving car project) teamed up with Fiat Chrysler (FCA) to build autonomous Pacifica minivans. And now, FCA has completed building the 100 self-driving Pacifica minivans, powered by Waymo’s tech, onboard computer power, sensors, and telematics.
Waymo CEO John Krafcik said the reason behind this partnership was to make better drivers rather than better cars. Unlike other automobile manufacturers such as Ford and GM, FCA hasn’t been so active in showing off its self-driving chops.
“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,” said Krafcik in a statement. Albeit the company had been testing a number of Pacifica’s prototypes, these 100 vehicles seem to have much tighter integration of Waymo’s autonomous hardware than those.
Berj Alexanian, a Fiat Chrysler spokesperson said this partnership between these two companies witnessed engineers from both ends work closely to “rapidly and robustly integrate the vehicle electrical and control systems with the fully self-driving system.” With Google’s self-driving hardware added on, most of Waymo’s two million miles of self-driving testing have been in a collection of Lexus RX SUVs.
Engineers from Waymo and FCA revised Pacifica’s powertrain, chassis, electrical and structural systems to make the van ready for Waymo’s self-driving technology. They have been testing the prototypes at Waymo facilities in California, FCA’s Chelsea Proving Grounds in Michigan, as well as Arizona Proving Grounds in Yucca, Arizona. All those trials included 200 hours of extreme-weather testing.
“Waymo learned first-hand what goes into an automaker’s vehicle development process, such as optimizing weight distribution to ensure a comfortable driving experience and durability testing in extreme-weather conditions,” said Alexanian.
The new vehicles will start on-road testing in early 2017, apparently in Waymo’s existing testing markets in Washington, Arizona, Texas, and California.