Stop the presses on this one: Google is going to start working with Chrysler on their new Pacifica mini-van. The plan is to test a fleet of the 2017 model for now and have the technology integrated into the vehicle, not just as an aftermarket proof of concept. There will be a future version of the Chrysler Pacifica that has the self-driving tech. This is the first time, according to Chrysler, that Google has integrated sensors and software into a passenger car for consumer use in a future model, not just as a test in a current passenger car.
One of the most surprising moves is that both engineering teams will co-locate in Michigan to work together and design the technology for eventual consumer use.
Per the press release: “Fiat-Chrysler will initially design and engineer around 100 vehicles uniquely built for Google’s self-driving technology. Google will integrate the suite of sensors and computers that the vehicles will rely on to navigate roads autonomously.”
After the collaboration, Google will then test the Pacifica in California as part of their regular autonomous car testing on public roads, leading to an eventual consumer reveal.
That’s the part that’s still unclear -- exactly when the Pacific model will debut with self-driving features. The 2017 model is already fairly high-tech and has adaptive cruise control. It uses some unique features for folding down the seats with a button press and even has a built-in vacuum cleaner you can use as you drive. It has HDMI ports for all passengers to connect up with a mobile device or even stash an Xbox in the floor cargo area and play Halo 5.
John Krafcik, the Chief Executive Officer for the Google Self-Driving Car Project (and the former CEO of Hyundai, said in the press release that “the opportunity to work closely with FCA engineers will accelerate our efforts to develop a fully self-driving car that will make our roads safer and bring everyday destinations within reach for those who cannot drive.”
This isn’t quite the same as debuting the tech in a production car. Google has tested their self-driving tech for years in both Toyota and Lexus models. Toyota reps have said recently that they want autonomous car tech to augment what the driver is doing. That may be one reason Chrysler has signed up to work with Google. (That, and they do not have any autonomous car tech of their own, unlike Audi, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and Cadillac.)
This is a bold move for both companies,m however. It’s a clear sign that Google wants to take their technology out of the lab and put it onto the roads in a production car. My educated guess? The Pacifica is just hitting dealers now, but the 2018 model might be ready for self-driving, likely only for stop-and-go traffic on the highway and at highway speeds, similar to the Tesla Model S. However, Google has shown that their tech can work at much lower speeds in a city.
Now we just have to wait who is first to market with a fully autonomous car, known in industry parlance as Level 3 (the driver hands off control but the AI hands it back during the trip depending on the conditions) and Level 4 (the self-driving tech can engage for an entire trip). I’m hoping Chrysler makes a slam-dunk here, mostly thanks to all of Google’s hard work.
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