Google's self-driving division Waymo will start testing new driverless vans later this month

Google’s self-driving minivans to start testing this month

Image credit: Reuters

Self-driving minivans developed by Google’s Waymo division will start testing on public roads in California and Arizona later this month, the company has revealed.

The Chrysler Pacifica hybrids fitted with sensors and radar developed by Waymo were put on display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, where Waymo’s CEO John Krafcik spoke about further plans for the 100-strong fleet.

Waymo first unveiled the minivans, developed jointly with Fiat Chrysler, in December. The two companies have been cooperating since May 2016.

Krafcik said that rather than using off-the-shelf technology, Waymo opted to develop the algorithms as well as lidar and other sensors by itself to ensure seamless functioning.

The roof-mounted short-range short-haul lidar, which scans the car’s surroundings with a laser beam to provide a 3D image of the terrain, was 90 per cent cheaper to develop than the technology’s predecessors, Krafcik said.

The lidar can reportedly distinguish an object the size of a football helmet two football fields away from the car.

Waymo, originally the Google Self-driving Car Project, has been developing driverless car technology for the past eight years. The firm aims to supply systems to other makers rather than building own vehicles.

In December last year, the firm started negotiations with Honda to use the Japanese car manufacturer’s vehicles to further test the technology.

According to Krafcik, Waymo’s cars will reach 3 million self-driven test miles in May this year.

“As we get fully self-driving cars ready for the road, we’ll need more types of vehicles to refine and test our advanced driving software,” Krafcik said in December when Waymo first released images of the Pacifica self-driving vans. “With this great new minivan on the road in our test markets, we’ll learn how people of all ages, shapes, and group sizes experience our fully self-driving technology.”

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