Waymo, the Google spin-off self-driving car startup is all set to launch its first fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica branded minivans on the road as January 2017 draws to a close.
The company made this announcement recently during its participation in the North American International Show today. Also, ever since Google and Fiat Chrysler signed the pact for this in May 2016, this is the first time that the startup gave public a sneak peek into what its vehicles would actually look like. In the initial stages following the launch, the minivans will operate in the areas of Phoenix, AZ and Mount View, CA. Interestingly, self-driving Lexus SUVs launched earlier by the company a real ready on the streets here and have driven more than a thousand miles in the past few years. What makes these minivans from the SUVs is that Waymo has gone in house for the technology to manufacture the vans. The SUVs, on the other hand, deployed some parts that were purchased off the shelf.
By opting for the in house decision, the company will be solely responsible for everything incorporated in the minivan. These include manufacturing all related sensors and cameras, as well as developing the needed mapping technologies. Also, by doing this, the company is able to have more control over the self-driving hardware and in turn bring down the cost of the minivan. At a speech in Detroit, CEO John Krafcik mentioned that the decision to build its own sensors helped Waymo to save on the costs by at least ninety percent.
Although the price of high-end LIDAR sensors has come down tremendously in the past, building its own sensors has allowed Waymo to make use of the exact sensors suiting its exact requirements. To cite an example, thanks to its own production, the company has been able to manufacture two types of LIDAR sensors with long range and short range. As a result, the minivans will be able to locate both objects and people very near them, as well as tiny items far away.
While Waymo does not have any plans to become an auto supplier, it is definitely considering on developing partnerships with OEMs to purchase its vehicles or for retrofit purposes.