Google, Fiat Chrysler to collaborate on self-driving minivans

This is the first time Google is working directly with an automaker to develop its vehicles

Alphabet's Google Self-Driving Car Project has teamed with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to work directly for the first time with an automaker on developing autonomous vehicles.

Under a deal announced Tuesday, Google said it plans to more than double its fleet of self-driving vehicles with the addition initially of about 100 new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans.

The Internet company said it hopes that the first few minivans will be on the road by year end.

In a market that was increasingly appearing as one in which Google and other tech companies would take on the traditional automakers, the deal between Google and FCA involves a collaboration between engineering teams that Google said “will help both teams better understand how to create a fully self-driving car that can take you from A to B with the touch of a button.”

Google did not disclose the financial terms of the deal or whether it could lead to a long-term partnership.

Automakers have separately tried to develop or acquire their own self-driving technologies, a market in which Fiat Chrysler was seen to be a laggard. General Motors, for example, said in March it was acquiring Cruise Automation to add the autonomous vehicle technology startup's  software talent and rapid development capability to accelerate GM’s own development of self-driving technology.

Google and Fiat Chrysler said the engineering responsibilities for the self-driving minivans will be shared based on each company's respective expertise. FCA will design its minivans to make it easier for Google to install its self-driving systems, including the computers running the software, and the sensors that enable the car to monitor its surroundings on the road.

The minivan also gives Google an opportunity to try out its technology on a larger vehicle that could be easier for passengers to enter and exit, with features like hands-free sliding doors, Google said.

“Collaborations like these are an important part of realizing the potential of self-driving technology to improve road safety and make transportation more accessible for millions of people,” Google said in a blog post. Part of the engineering teams of both companies will be located at a facility in southeastern Michigan.

The self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans will be tested by Google's self-driving car team first on its private test track in California before they are operated on public roads.

Google's self-driving cars are currently being tested in four U.S. cities, including Mountain View in California, Austin in Texas, Kirkland in Washington, and Phoenix in Arizona, and its test vehicles have driven on their own over 1.5 million miles (2.4 million kilometers) on public roads.

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John Ribeiro

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