Waymo, Google’s self-driving cars spin-off is set to deploy its fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans onto the road at the end of this month.
We’ve been going on and on about self-driving cars, and for a very good reason: they have the potential to save countless lives. Tired, drunk or distracted driving contributes to 1.2 million lives lost on roads every year and the figure continues to grow. Injuries are even more common. To put it bluntly, humans make errors when they drive (it’s almost natural) and this can be extremely dangerous. Although there is still plenty of room for improvement, self-driving cars have the potential to be much safer and several parts of the world are already pioneering various programs for driverless car implementation.
Google (aka Alphabet, the holding company) has been a big player on this market. They created Waymo, a spin-off company, to fully focus on driverless cars. Now, Waymo minivans will be hitting the roads in Mountain View, California and Phoenix, Arizona – where self-driving Lexus SUVs have already been tested for years. The big deal is that this is the first time all the technology is in-house, developed by Waymo itself. This includes cameras, sensors, and mapping technology. This is important because it allows the company to make the technology much cheaper, and therefore, develop much cheaper cars. For instance, sensors purchased by Google for $75,000 back in 2009 now only cost $7,500 for Waymo to build itself, according to The Verge.
“Today, we’re sharing a first look at the completed vehicles, equipped with our latest Waymo self-driving technology, including our suite of updated sensors, all-new computer and other major system updates,” writes John Krafcik, CEO.
“Just a few years ago, a single top-of-the-range lidar cost upwards of $75,000. Today, we’ve brought down that cost by more than 90%,” Krafcik said. “As we look to scale, we will do even better, with the goal of making this technology accessible to millions of people.”
Lidar is the most expensive technology in self-driving cars, and it represents a vital part of the driverless technology. Bringing its costs down by 90% represents a landmark in the market. Waymo isn’t in the business of building its own cars – it just provides the driverless technology to other car companies – in this case, Chrysler. In fact, rumor has it that Waymo and Chrysler will eventually launch its own autonomous ride-sharing service to compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft. Whatever their business plans may be, we hail the advent of driverless cars. Hopefully, the future will bring much safer cars and much safer streets.