Sunday was a busy day at Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL), just ahead of the North American International Auto Show at Detroit. Google unveiled the latest self-driving system in the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, saying it was more affordable and reliable. It was also revealed that the Chrysler Pacifica minivans will be deployed by Waymo, Google’s self-driving car start-up spun-off from last year, on public roads later in January.
They will hit the roads first in Phoenix, Arizona, and Mountain View, California. The Lexus self-driving SUVs have driven thousands of miles in the last few years already in Mountain View. The existing fleet, which includes the “Firefly” prototypes of Google, and the specially equipped Lexus RX450s, has driven close to 2.5 million miles, most of them on city streets.
The announcement was made by John Krafcik, who heads the Waymo unit of Google. These self-driving Pacificas had been kept under wraps till now since Google entered into a deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles last May. However, many observers aren’t happy that this was the only alliance Google could get into. For instance, the deal with Japan’s Honda is still pending.
Chrysler Pacifica Has Better Technologies
Explaining why Chrysler Pacifica minivan would be superior, John said that the latest software and hardware included in the sensors, the laser-based lidar, improved radar, and better vision system will make the minivan far superior. All these technologies have been developed in-house, he pointed out. This is interesting, as this is the first time Waymo has produced all the technologies themselves to let these cars drive themselves completely. This means Google is building the mapping technology, sensors, and cameras, instead of buying them as in the past.
However, Waymo did take smaller solid-state lidar units from Quanergy Systems and Velodyne Lidar, which will eventually cost $200 or slightly less. The cost of a single lidar unit has been brought down by a massive 90 percent to around $7,500.
Google Won’t Be an Auto Parts Supplier
Though Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) is making most parts themselves, but they don’t want to become a supplier of auto parts like 3M or Delphi, John said. Rather, their focus is on getting into partnerships with original equipment makers like Honda and Chrysler to buy cars or retrofit for self-driving capabilities.
But, there are those who believe that Waymo is going to eventually launch their ride-sharing service to take on the competition from Uber.