Under a partnership established six months ago, engineers from Waymo and Fiat Chrysler collaborated in Michigan to build these hybrid-powered vans with the right tools for the job incorporated from the start, rather than retrofitting them after they came off the assembly line. Those include the computers that run its software algorithms and the suite of sensors—LIDAR, radars, and cameras—that adorn the roof and flank the sides of the car.
Unlike Waymo’s “pod” vehicles, which have room for two and skimp on basics like the steering wheel and pedals, these vans will have those controls, plus space for half a dozen passengers. Waymo also operates a fleet of about two dozen retrofitted Lexus SUVs.
Neither company has said where their partnership will go from here, but it makes sense for Waymo to hook up with an established manufacturer. Waymo’s on a mission to bring its tech to market—whether through ridesharing, trucking, logistics, or personal vehicles—and working with a player who knows how to crank out cars will surely help that effort along.
Despite reports saying these vehicles will start carrying customers by the end of 2017 (à la Uber’s recent efforts in Pittsburgh and San Francisco), Waymo and Fiat Chrysler say they’re just for testing.
That doesn’t mean members of the public won’t climb aboard, however. In the past year, Waymo says, it has taken hundreds of Google employees and “guests” for rides in its autonomous vehicles, as it starts to figure out how the hoi polloi will interact with its technology—and how to bring it to market at long last.