Waymo adding 500 more Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Minivans to self-driving program; early rider program
Waymo (formerly the Google self-driving car project) will add an additional 500 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans (earlier post) to expand its self-driving program. FCA previously delivered 100 minivans, modified for self-driving, to Waymo during the second half of 2016. (Earlier post.) Production of the additional 500 minivans will ramp up beginning next month. Waymo will then outfit these vehicles with its self-driving technology.
Waymo also is inviting members of the public to use its fleet of self-driving vehicles for everyday travel. Waymo’s early rider program will give selected Phoenix residents the opportunity to experience the self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans for the first time at no charge.
The collaboration between FCA and Waymo has been advantageous for both companies as we continue to work together to fully understand the steps needed to bring self-driving vehicles to market. The addition of 500 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans is a further acknowledgement of the hard work put forth by both engineering teams.—Sergio Marchionne, Chief Executive Officer, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V.
The self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans are equipped with Waymo’s hardware suite. Waymo is building on software and sensor technology developed in Google’s labs since 2009.
The Waymo self-driving Pacifica minivan has a complete system of three different types of Waymo-built LiDARs that detect more objects and see them at a higher resolution. The detail captured with our custom LiDAR is so high that Waymo not only can detect pedestrians all around the car, but can also tell in which direction they’re facing. This is incredibly important as it helps more accurately to predict where someone will walk next.
Two of the three LiDARs represent completely new categories of LiDAR. First, a new short-range LiDAR is positioned to give the car a completely uninterrupted surround view—down, behind and next to the vehicle’s body—to enable the detection of small people and objects, no matter how close they are to the car. Second, a first-of-its-kind long range LiDAR is capable of quickly zooming into objects on the road. This LiDAR can see a football helmet two full football fields away.
Designing its own LiDAR system has also enabled Waymo to develop it at a fraction of the cost. Just a few years ago, a single, top-of-the-range LiDAR unit would have cost upwards of $75,000. From the design process alone, Waymo has brought down that cost by more than 90%.
The custom vision system consists of 8 vision modules each using multiple sensors, plus an additional, forward-facing, super high-resolution multi-sensor module, enabling 360-degree vision. With this resolution, Waymo can detect small objects such as construction cones far away even when cruising down a road at high speed. A wide dynamic range enables vision under a wide span of light conditions.
Waymo’s custom radar system has a continuous, 360˚ view, enabling it to track objects and vehicles usually hidden from the human eye. The radars complement the other sensors by being highly effective in rain, fog or snow.
The Alphabet company is refining the technology through 1 billion miles of simulation testing each year; its cars have self-driven nearly 3 million miles on public roads across four US cities.
The minivan’s electrical, powertrain, chassis and structural systems were all modified to accommodate Waymo’s self-driving technology.
Waymo and FCA co-located a select group of engineers at a facility in southeastern Michigan to accelerate the overall development process. In addition, extensive testing was carried out at FCA’s Chelsea Proving Grounds in Chelsea, Michigan, and Arizona Proving Grounds in Yucca, Arizona, as well as Waymo test sites in California.