Google’s self-driving car company, Waymo, debuted at the end of last year and it is almost ready to release a series of Chrysler Pacifica minivans that have the ability to drive themselves. These minivans will be sent out onto public roads toward the end of January. Officials from the company made this announcement while attending the North American International Auto Show.
These self-driving minivans will be seen on public roads in Phoenix, Arizona and Mountain View, California. Google is no stranger to putting self-driving vehicles on the road. Over the past couple of years, their self-driving Lexus SUVs drove thousands of miles within Phoenix. Now Google has made a deal with Fiat Chrysler to release their self-driving Pacificas onto the streets as well.
The neat thing about these self-driving minivans is that Waymo created all of the technology behind them. All of their mapping technology, sensors, and cameras were developed by Waymo instead of some third-party company. This allows Waymo to have full control over the hardware which controls the self-driving feature. Not only that, it will bring the operational and parts costs way down as well.
In 2009, Google spent $75,000 to put LIDAR sensors in its self-driving prototype. Now, their company Waymo is developing these sensors and it only costs them $7,500. This obviously saves the company a considerable amount of money and it will help them keep the costs cheap. These LIDAR sensors are what gives these self-driving vehicles the ability to sense when objects or people are close to the car. There is a long range and short range LIDAR sensor in the vehicle. The long range can detect a tiny object that is far away from the car, which enables it to slow down as it approaches the object.
The big plan for these minivans is to create an autonomous ride-sharing service with them. This will be similar to Uber, except there won’t be a human driver controlling the vehicle.