Google is expanding its self-driving car project by partnering with Fiat Chrysler to integrate some of its technology into a 2017-model vehicle.
The web giant today said it had signed a deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to “integrate Google’s self-driving technology into all-new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid people movers”.
“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 real world production passenger vehicle,” the carmaker said in a statement.
The project has previously retrofitted technology to cars by other makers. Google currently runs a fleet that includes a number of Lexus SUVs, and has also previously worked with modified Toyota Prius and Audi TT cars.
But its tie-up with Fiat Chrysler appears to be the first time that it has integrated its technology into car while it is still being developed for market.
The carmaker said the “hybrid” people movers will be added to Google’s self-driving test fleet sometime later this year.
It said their addition to the program would “more than double Google’s current fleet of self-driving test vehicles.”
“[Fiat Chrysler] will initially design and engineer around 100 vehicles uniquely built for Google’s self-driving technology,” the carmaker said.
“Google will integrate the suite of sensors and computers that the vehicles will rely on to navigate roads autonomously.”
Both Google and Fiat Chrysler will co-locate engineering teams at a facility in south-eastern Michigan in the United States to “accelerate the design, testing and manufacturing” of the people movers.
The minivans will initially run on Google’s private test track before being put onto California’s public roads.
“The opportunity to work closely with Fiat Chrysler 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,” Google’s self-driving car project CEO John Krafcik said.
Google has spent the past year scaling up its testing of automated cars in a bid to expose them to more obstacles and improve the algorithms and other systems that enable the car to react.
Its fleet of cars now cover vast distances in four US cities, and human drivers are overriding the on-board computers far less often, pointing to advances in the reliability of those systems.
MIT’s Andrew McAfee last year described his experience riding in a driverless car as “raw, abject terror” for 10 to 15 seconds, followed by “passionate interest in what was going on” and finally “unbelievably boring”.
“By the end of this ride it felt about as exciting to us as – you know how in some airports there’s the monorail that takes you from your gate to the terminal? This ride had the same level of visceral thrill to it by the end,” he said.
Though the experience may not be engineered to be thrilling, it is being engineered to prioritise safety and to reduce the high number of deaths and injuries on roads every year. In 2015, Australia recorded 1209 fatalities on its roads.