Waymo, Alphabet / Google’s autonomous car subsidiary, which wants to open a chauffeur-driven taxi service this year, has ordered 62,000 minivans from the Fiat Chrysler Group (FCA), giving a big boost to its project.
The two companies are also discussing the possibility for FCA to build autonomous cars equipped with Waymo technology for sale to the general public, according to a statement released Thursday.
The figure of 62,000 vehicles “maximum” comes from an announcement made in January, when the two groups had evoked the purchase by Waymo of Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans , for delivery from the end of 2018.
“We are excited to the idea of deepening our collaboration with FCA, which will support the launch of our self-driving service and explore future products, “said John Krafcik, the boss of Waymo, in the statement.
Waymo, one of the most advanced companies in autonomous driving, is still planning to launch this service in 2018, which will allow customers to book a driverless car from an app.
Alphabet – the parent company of Google – is already testing autonomous vehicles in 25 US cities, including Phoenix, Arizona (south west), where Waymo is conducting its most advanced tests with real customers (with an engineer behind the steering wheel to take the hand if necessary) and with volunteer employees as passengers (without any human presence behind the wheel).
Car manufacturers, technology groups and car reservation platforms (such as Uber and Lyft) have embarked on a race that will launch the first fully autonomous cars to the general public, although there are still many obstacles to overcome, technological, legal and even ethical.
Waymo already collaborates with Lyft, Uber’s number one competitor in the United States. But Uber boss Dara Khosrowshahi told a California conference on Wednesday that he was trying to convince Waymo to make his future autonomous taxis available through the Uber app, despite their recent legal wrangling over technology thefts.
Uber’s activities in this sector have been virtually stalled since a fatal accident in Arizona in March. Proof of the enthusiasm for autonomous cars, General Motors (GM) received Thursday a significant boost, in the form of a $ 2.25 billion investment, from Japanese Softbank to accelerate its efforts in the development of cars without driver.