We weren’t sure how this year’s North American International Auto Show was going to fare considering all of the car news at CES 2017 last week, but the Detroit show got off to a big start on Sunday. Waymo, the new company formed when Google spun off its autonomous car division in 2016, announced that its first fleet of self-driving minivans will hit public roads later this month.
Waymo gave the world a brief first look at its next-generation fleet of autonomous automobiles just last month. “As we get fully self-driving cars ready for the road, we’ll need more types of vehicles to refine and test our advanced driving software,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik wrote. “That’s why in May we teamed up with FCA to work on adding 100 self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans to Waymo’s fleet. With this great new minivan on the road in our test markets, we’ll learn how people of all ages, shapes, and group sizes experience our fully self-driving technology.”
At the time, the company said that its new fleet of self-driving minivans would hit the roads at some point in 2017. Now, just two weeks later, the company has announced that “sometime” is this very month.
Waymo already has self-driving Lexus SUVs on the roads in Mountain View, California and Phoenix, Arizona, where it has been conducting tests with manned autonomous vehicles for some time now. At some point in January, Waymo’s new Chrysler Pacifica minivan fleet will join those SUVs in both cities. What’s so special about the minivans compared to the company’s older Lexus trucks? For the first time, all of the technology and components used on these new vehicles was produced in-house, including cameras, lidar, other sensors and even mapping tech.
Here’s a shot of the new Pacifica minivans as they’ll appear on public roads beginning sometime in January:
And here’s a quick video from Waymo’s presentation at the Detroit Auto Show on Sunday: