Google’s Self-Driving Car Division Sets Off, Shows Off Autonomous Pacifica
Last week, Google’s self-driving car division split off from the main company, renaming itself Waymo as a company under the Alphabet corporate umbrella. This week, the company wasted no time in showing off its first vehicle to be retrofitted for autonomous operation: the Chrysler Pacifica minivan.
One hundred Pacifica minivans, which were created from the collaboration with Fiat Chrysler that began half a year ago, have been fitted with a number of protruding parts housing various sensors. On the inside, they have enough room for a half-dozen passengers, while still reserving space for a steering wheel, gas pedal, and brake pedal. On the original Google self-driving “koala” car, there was only enough room for two passengers, and both steering wheel and pedals were purposefully absent.
Waymo has also inherited Google’s fleet of retrofitted Lexus SUVs, which were used to test autonomous driving before the pod car was created.
At the moment, both Waymo and Fiat Chrysler say that the upgraded Pacificas are intended for testing only, as opposed to being used for taxi services like Uber’s recent self-driving exploits, although Google employees and occasional guests have been taken for rides in the self-driving minivans.
Honestly, we are curious as to why, exactly, Waymo and Fiat Chrysler decided to use the Pacifica as the base for the test vehicles, except possibly due to its position as the new plug-in hybrid in the minivan market (make that only plug-in hybrid in the minivan market), giving it the distinction of probably the greenest vehicle in Fiat Chrysler’s entire portfolio (its only full-electric vehicle is the Fiat 500e, which CEO Sergio Marchionne would really rather you not buy). Presumably, its size would provide ample space to mount the equipment and wiring needed.