Mountain View, California, Google/Alphabet's backyard, is one of several suburban locales where driverless minivans will soon roam free in their natural habitat.
In a speech made to a Detroit auto show, the CEO of Google's recently spun-off self-driving car technology division Waymo announced that a fleet of Chrysler hybrid vehicles with Waymo equipment would be hitting public roads in Mountain View, California and Phoenix, Arizona this month. The Associated Press reported the announcement, which is in keeping with hints Waymo dropped last month when revealing its designs.
Rather than developing its own vehicles from scratch, Google announced in mid-December that it would outfit existing cars — Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans for starters — with its autonomous hardware (sensors, cameras) and software. A first look at the vans was provided later last month from Waymo, a division of Google parent company Alphabet formerly run under its X division.
The Verge provides details of the cost-saving techniques touted by Waymo's CEO John Krafcik in that Detroit speech. Waymo is now in the business of building its own LIDAR sensors, for example, and is in fact creating or contracting out all of its custom hardware parts rather than buying them off the shelf, so to speak. That move was made to dramatically lower the cost of equipping cars like the Pacifica hybrid for autonomous driving, Krafcik claimed.
Although San Franciscans might meet a fleet of self-driving Google minivans with the cold reception that's now customary for "Google buses" and self-driving Ubers, Peninsula drivers are perhaps better accustomed to playing the guinea pig: Waymo's logo on Google's pod-like car prototypes, for example, can be seen with frequency in Palo Alto, Mountain View, and elsewhere.
Finally, the Verge gestures to possible long-term aspirations like a Waymo-Chrysler ride-hailing company. We'll keep up with that hypothesis, but we're assuming we'll have a heads up first. Google's "Don't be evil" mantra, at odds with the ethos of self-driving car rival Uber, will likely ensure that they seeks the permits Uber lacked before beginning to test any such service.