100 Chrysler Pacifica minivans will be fitted with Google’s autonomous driving technology

Tech giant Google has found an automotive partner to collaborate with and develop autonomous driving vehicles. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles made the announcement, signalling the start of a partnership that will work together to develop and test around 100 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans with the goal of having the vehicles hit the road by the end of 2016. Google already has experience with hybrids with the Lexus RX 450h SUV being part of its current test fleet, one of which was involved in a well publicized road mishap in April 2016. But this will be the first time that the tech firm will be working hand-in-hand with an actual automaker in developing an autonomous driving car.

According to Google, FCA will be in charge of designing the Pacifica minivans and configure it to fit their self-driving systems, allowing for quick installation of the entire system, including the computers that will hold the self-driving software and the sensors that enable the software to see what’s on the road around the vehicle. The Pacifica looks to be a good choice for the technology as it gives Google an opportunity to test its self-driving system on a large vehicle that makes it easier for passengers to enter and exit the vehicle. Once the minivans are fully equipped with the autonomous driving technology, it would double the number of Google’s test fleet, which could come in handy in expediting the advancement of the technology.

It’s no secret that both Google and FCA have expressed their commitment to pursue the development of autonomous driving. For its part, Google has already gone down the political road, lobbying both California and federal regulators to ease up on the regulations for autonomous driving cars. More recently, the tech firm joined forces with Ford, Volvo, and ride sharing services Uber and Lyft to create a coalition that will push for federal action to help expedite the development of autonomous cars.

Neither Google nor FCA discussed the financial terms of the partnership, although both companies did confirm that they would co-locate part of their respective engineering teams in Michigan to accelerate the “design, testing, and manufacturing” of the Pacifica minivans with autonomous driving technology.

Continue after the jump to read the full story.

Why it matters

There’s plenty of evidence that this partnership between Google and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will yield some positive results for both companies. It might not seem like it on the surface because all FCA is doing is providing Google with its vehicles so that Google can bolster its test fleet and make it easier to conduct test runs. But I’m pretty sure that there’s more to this partnership what Google and FCA are letting on. The mere fact that both companies are sending some of their best engineers to work together in a single facility leads me to think that whatever advancements Google makes with its autonomous driving tech, FCA will be one of the first automakers to get dibs on it if it does end up hitting the market.

Everybody knows that autonomous driving technology is considered as one of the foundations of the future of the automobile industry. A lot of automakers are currently developing their own systems and technologies in an effort to be one of the first to have the systems out on the market. For its part, FCA played it smart by partnering with Google and let the tech company develop the system on the Pacifica minivans to see how feasible they can be. It’s a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” partnership that should yield bountiful results for both companies.

Granted, we’re not going to see any of these results anytime soon because there are still some legal concerns that need to be ironed out with the government before any kind of testing without restrictions is given the go-ahead. I don’t know how that part of the equation is going to play out or if there’s even a timetable for it. What I do know is that all parties – automakers and legislators alike – are in agreement that there needs to be review of the rules and regulations on autonomous operations.

How long that’s going to take is the real question here. For the sake of everyone involved in the development of this tech, I hope that there are advancements in these discussions. Otherwise, it’s going to be much more difficult for anybody to really get the full experience of testing these autonomous driving vehicles in real life environments. In the meantime, Google has said that once they’re all up to speed, the autonomous minivans will be tested on private tracks before they get their run on public roads.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
- image 662192

Read our full review of the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid here.

Press Release

The Google Self-Driving Car Project and FCA announced today, in a first-of-its-kind collaboration, that they will integrate Google’s self-driving technology into all-new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans to expand Google’s existing self-driving test program. This marks the first time that Google has worked directly with an automaker to integrate its self-driving system, including its sensors and software, into a passenger vehicle.

The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans will be used later this year for Google’s self-driving testing, more than doubling Google’s current fleet of self-driving test vehicles. Engineering responsibilities will be shared based on each company’s respective expertise. FCA will initially design and engineer around 100 vehicles uniquely built for Google’s self-driving technology. Google will integrate the suite of sensors and computers that the vehicles will rely on to navigate roads autonomously.

Both companies will co-locate part of their engineering teams at a facility in southeastern Michigan to accelerate the design, testing and manufacturing of the self-driving Chrysler Pacifica.

“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, Chief Executive Officer, Google 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.”

Self-driving cars have the potential to prevent some of the 33,000 deaths that occur each year on U.S. roads, 94 percent of which are caused by human error. This collaboration will help FCA and Google better understand what it will take to bring self-driving cars into the world.

“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, Chief Executive Officer, FCA. “The experience both companies gain will be fundamental to delivering automotive technology solutions that ultimately have far-reaching consumer benefits.”

Google’s self-driving cars are currently being tested in four U.S. cities. The self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans will be tested by Google’s self-driving car team on its private test track in California prior to operating on public roads.

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