Waymo, Google's self-driving spin-off has announced that its first fully autonomous line of cars is ready to hit the streets. In an event at the Detroit Auto Show, Waymo gave the public its first look at their self-driving minivans. The design had been under wraps and we've only recently gotten details of the design, but the vehicle is now ready to start real world test drives by the end of January.
Google spun off their autonomous division in order to focus more on the internal guts of the cars. Waymo has gone with an in-house design to increase reliability and quality control. By building all of the sensors and cameras needed, this reportedly represents roughly 90% savings in cost versus buying them off the shelves. This is no small task however as it involves designing complex products like visual cameras, LIDAR, RADAR, control systems, and mapping technology.
The minivan overall looks like a well refined design rather than a stock car with cameras glued or strapped on to it. The autonomous features are built right into the chassis. The cars themselves will start their lives driving around Mountain View, California and Phoenix, Arizona. Waymo already has a Lexus model driving in those two cities, but the Chrysler Pacifica looks to be the main focus.
While Google doesn't want to become a car company and Waymo doesn't want to become an auto parts supplier, their vehicles may open the door for some future markets. There are rumors that Waymo may start an autonomous ride sharing or taxi service with Chrysler to compete with Lyft and Uber. The minivan is a great first choice for this given the occupant capacity of 7 people.