Google’s self-driving tech spinoff Waymo is set to make a big push into its trial programs for its autonomous vehicles: the company has inked a deal to buy ‘thousands’ more minivans from Fiat Chrysler, which it plans to run across several cities in the US without a human driver at the wheel.
It won’t just say how many thousands, though – just that it’s ordered a large number of Chrysler Pacificas to grow its fleet that currently includes 600 minivans of the same model, and test them in the 25 cities where it’s currently trialing them.
The company is said to be working on a completely driverless ride-hailing service; last November, it announced that it had begun sending out its minivans without humans warming the driver’s seat in Phoenix, Arizona.
The move to expand its fleet will help Waymo stay ahead of the competition in the race to deliver a truly self-driving vehicle system: with a claimed four million miles driven using its tech, it’s arguably closer than the likes of Tesla, Ford, and others in attaining Level 5 autonomy for its cars.
It’s also been experimenting with building a mobility service: last April, Waymo launched a program to let families in Phoenix hail and use self-driving minivans any time of the day – albeit with a human at the wheel.
The news follows Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s statement in Davos from last week about his company working to launch autonomous cabs by mid-2019.
He explained that, rather than revamping the entire fleet in a city, the idea will be to send out self-driving vehicles only when all conditions are met (like the passenger choosing a route in an area that Uber’s fully mapped), when the passenger has opted in to ride a driverless car, and when and it’s absolutely safe to do so.
Waymo is also still embroiled in a legal battle with Uber over allegations that the ride-hailing company stole trade secrets to develop its self-driving systems – so the outcome of this race might not just be about which firm has better technical chops.