The drive toward autonomous vehicle technology gained momentum last week as two major players laid plans to put more test vehicles on the road.
Waymo LLC , formerly known as the Google self-driving car project, invited residents of Phoenix, AZ, to be part of its “early rider program,” which calls for hundreds of self-driving vehicles to be made available to families and commuters. Meanwhile, General Motors Co. reportedly filed with the Federal Communications Commission to add 300 more self-driving cars to its existing test fleet of 50 autonomous Chevy Bolts, according to a report in the Detroit News .
The actions of the two companies are a small step forward for the autonomous car segment, which to date has mostly busied itself with announcements, investments, acquisitions and secretive engineering work.
In a statement on its website, Waymo said the goal of its new program is “to give participants access to our fleet every day, at any time, to go anywhere within an area that’s about twice the size of San Francisco.” The program is the first public trial for the company since it began working on self-driving technology in 2009.
Waymo (formerly known as the Google self-driving car project) said that it is adding 500 self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans to its fleet, bringing its total to about 600. The minivans will be publicly tested in Phoenix, AZ. (Source: Waymo LLC)
Waymo said that it is also adding 500 self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans to its fleet, bringing its total to about 600. The company announced in December that it was partnering with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) to outfit 100 hybrid Pacificas with its autonomous driving technology. Under the partnership, FCA engineers integrate Waymo’s technology into the electrical architecture of the Pacificas.
GM announced publicly in December that it was testing self-driving Chevy Bolts on public roads in Michigan, but last week it would not say whether its fleet is growing. “We have GM automation engineers testing more than 50 vehicles, but we aren’t commenting on the specifics of a broader fleet,” GM spokesman Patrick Sullivan told Design News last week.
In December, GM CEO Mary Barra announced that GM would begin testing self-driving Chevy Bolts on public roads in Michigan. (Source: General Motors Co.)
To be sure, the announcements don’t mean that consumers will soon be enjoying curb-to-curb service from self-driving vehicles with no drivers. In its statement, Waymo said its autonomous Pacificas will have drivers aboard. “In the initial stage of the early rider program, we’ll have a test driver at the wheel, allowing us to gather more feedback, develop self-driving features and refine our technology,” Waymo wrote.
Industry experts said the Waymo program is a “limited domain” test performed under well-understood conditions. “It’s a large geographic area, but if you look at the conditions, it’s fairly consistent across the area,” noted Sam Abuelsamid, a research analyst for Navigant Research . “It’s an area with warm weather all the time, and it doesn’t get a lot of rain.”
Despite claims by automakers that they will release full, self-diving