Soccer Parents, Rejoice! This New Minivan Drives Itself


IN BRIEF
  • Google’s self-driving car initiative, now a separate company named Waymo, has added 100 autonomous Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans to its fleet of test vehicles.
  • With an estimated 95 percent of all traffic fatalities the result of human error, widespread adoption of autonomous cars could save millions of lives.

Google has been working on a self-driving car project for the past seven years, and just last week, it set up a separate company under the Alphabet umbrella to move the project forward. That company, now called Waymo, takes its mission of providing safe, fully autonomous vehicles to a new level with the addition of 100 Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans to its test fleet.

The minivans were produced by Fiat Chrysler specifically for Waymo in close tandem with the Alphabet company. This means that the self-driving technologies in these Pacifica minivans were not add ons — Waymo’s onboard computer power, sensors, and telematics are as much part of the Pacifica as its own electrical, powertrain, and structural systems (including the chassis), all modified and optimized for Waymo’s autonomous driving tech.

Credit: Waymo

Everything took only six months to design and build, according to Chrysler, with engineering teams from both companies working hand in hand in the vehicle’s development. The Pacifica will join Waymo’s fleet of self-driving cars by early next year for more testing on public roads.

Although Google’s self-driving car project had its share of bumps along the road, Waymo presents its autonomous vehicle tech as “a safer driver that is always alert and never distracted.” Indeed, with 95 percent of all traffic fatalities the result of human error, self-driving cars are expected to save millions of lives, so the more variety we get in the types of self-driving vehicles available, the more likely we are to eventually have every car on the road be capable of autonomy.

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