Waymo sets up its own self-driving car fleet

Waymo has announced a non-exclusive agreement with Fiat Chrysler to acquire thousands of Chrysler Pacificas, the vehicle it has been using to test autonomous driving in several US cities. The agreement does not mention specific amounts, but is an important advance on the previous one, in which there was simply a collaboration for Waymo to equip a small number of vehicles for autonomous driving tests with its radars, three LiDARs and nine cameras.

That first agreement, announced in May 2016, involved a total of one hundred vehicles used in simulation facilities and in several cities in California, along with five hundred more in 2017 on the roads of in Phoenix (Arizona), after state governor Doug Ducey changed the law to allow for testing without a safety driver behind the wheel. These tests, which began in November 2017, are expected to give way in the first quarter of 2018 to a completely autonomous taxi service that is already being tested, while the company is undertaking further testing in 24 US cities with a wide range of weather conditions: from sandy, sunny Arizona, to cold and snowy Detroit or rainy Kirkland in Washington state, along with Mountain View, San Francisco and Austin. The vehicles are manufactured by Fiat Chrysler at its Windsor, Ontario plant and modified by Waymo in a facility in Michigan, near the company’s headquarters.

What does this purchase of thousands of vehicles indicate? First, that Waymo intends to develop its own fleets, maintained and managed by Avis, as well as licensing its technology, the most mature in the industry, to third parties, and that it prefers to continue using a vehicle widely available and tested rather than waiting for models specially designed for autonomous driving, such as the one that GM says has created without pedals or steering wheel for 2019, which would be part of a fleet of 2,600 autonomous taxis for which the company has requested the corresponding license.

Second, extending Waymo to more cities is simply about waiting for more states and cities to pass the necessary laws: next up will be Atlanta, and more will follow. In Phoenix, autonomous vehicles are already a familiar sight on the city’s roads. Will there be accidents? No doubt, but much less likely than when people are behind the wheel. Has progress been delayed by the trolley problem? Nope. As anticipated, that dilemma was absurd and meaningless.

While Waymo readies to deploy a technology it considers ready, its rivals are looking to the medium term. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi foresees using autonomous vehicles in 2019 and has announced the acquisition of 24,000 Volvo XC90 vehicles. For the time being, at its operations in Phoenix, the company uses vehicles with a driver 95% of the time, using autonomous vehicles for the remaining 5% of journeys through sufficiently proven areas. In addition, the company is testing in San Francisco and Pittsburgh. Chevrolet is carrying out tests in Phoenix and Scottsdale (Arizona), in San Francisco, in Detroit with its Bolt, using Cruise technology, and plans to make a splash on the streets of Manhattan over the course of this year. Add to this the Chinese, German, South Korean and Japanese companies that are road testing and it’s clear that in a very short time some of us will have had the opportunity to ride in an autonomous vehicle, while those lucky enough to live in cities that have approved their circulation, it will be commonplace. Let’s hope that the naysayers will finally accept that self-driving vehicles are now a reality.


(En español, aquí)