The Google self-driving car project takes a huge leap forward with the announced partnership with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), which will be providing the new Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan to the project.
“FCA has a nimble and experienced engineering team and the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan is well-suited for Google’s self-driving technology,” said John Krafcik, formerly Hyundai’s chief in the U.S., who is now Chief Executive Officer of Google’s Self-Driving Car Project. “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.”
For those unfamiliar with the idea of autonomous driving, it all stems from the notion that the biggest contributor to deaths in road crashes is human error (estimated at about 94%). And when you factor in the idea that a human driver doesn’t react either quickly enough or properly in an emergency, then you begin to see that getting into a car and simply pushing a button, putting complete trust in the onboard computers makes a lot of sense (albeit an admittedly an uneasy truce, given the long human/machine relationship).
Still, it is regarded as science fiction despite the fact many manufacturers have committed to putting autonomous vehicles (at least in some limited capacity) on public roads by the end of the decade. Which can already be considered a success, given that many vehicles already have some autonomy in dealing with things such as keeping within a lane or coming to a complete stop when the driver doesn’t react to an obstacle in front of it.
The idea of autonomous vehicles piqued more curiosity, though, when Google announced it would work toward putting a self-driving vehicle on the road within the same time frame as that announced by manufacturers. The project has been existence for seven years and the self-driving vehicles have logged roughly 2.4 million km on public roads.
“Working with Google provides an opportunity for FCA to partner with one of the world’s leading technology companies to accelerate the pace of innovation in the automotive industry,” said Sergio Marchionne, the Canadian raised and educated Chief Executive Officer of FCA. “The experience both companies gain will be fundamental to delivering automotive technology solutions that ultimately have far-reaching consumer benefits.”
The course of action is to put Google’s technology (including sensors and software) in the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan, while sharing engineering responsibilities. FCA engineers will initially design and engineer 100 minivans to accept and effectively use the technology.
The two companies will integrate teams into a dedicated facility in southeastern Michigan (ideally near Chrysler’s Proving Grounds in Chelsea, we would presume, though nothing’s been announced). Google currently tests its vehicles at a private facility in California, before taking them to public road tests in Mountain View, California, Austin, Texas, Kirkland, Washington, and Phoenix, Arizona.