Google has added a new model to its fleet of self-driving cars: the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivan. The prototypes were spotted on the streets of Mountain View in California over the weekend, according to 9to5Google.
The self-driving hybrid minivan is the product of a partnership that Google and Fiat Chrysler announced in May. The deal states that about 100 Chrysler minivans will be built specifically for the purpose of testing Google's self-driving car technology, particularly the company's new crop of sensors.
The addition of the Chrysler Pacifica to Google's battalion of smart cars nearly doubles the size of the entire autonomous fleet. Google had been testing 34 prototype cars, designed in house, and 24 Lexus Rx450h SUVs prior to the agreement.
It's A Win-Win For Google And Fiat Chrysler
In the seven years that Google has been running experiments on driverless cars, the deal with Chrysler marks the first time the Alphabet company enlisted the help of an automaker — and it could be a win-win situation for both.
Google, which has no plans of building its own commercial car brand, has long aimed for a partnership with an established car company to realize its dream of autonomous driving.
Fiat Chrysler, on the other hand, has struggled to find a merger partner in the auto industry that would help cover the cost of developing new technology. But these efforts have proven in vain.
With the Google-Chrysler deal, however, Google has at its disposable the "robust electrical architecture" of the Chrysler hybrid while the automaker benefits from the cutting-edge software of Google fitted into its line.
"FCA has a nimble and experienced engineering team," says John Krafcik, CEO of the Google Self-Driving Car Project. "The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan is well suited for Google's self-driving technology."
The Chrysler minivan is powered by a 16 kWh battery pack. As a plug-in hybrid, the all-electric option allows for a range of 30 miles, and this makes it the ideal passenger car for testing.
Google's Approach To Self-Driving
Other names in the transport and auto industry are speeding ahead in the development of autonomous driving technologies.
Ridehailing company Uber is currently testing self-driving cars on the streets of Pittsburgh, while electric car maker Tesla has logged a staggering 222 million miles driven on its Autopilot feature.
Both Tesla and Google are the two most recognized pioneers in the arena of self-driving cars, but each has its own approach to the budding technology.
Tesla is deploying a semi-autonomous system that assists drivers by giving them a sense of the car's surroundings. Tesla's Autopilot feature is recommended for use primarily on the highway.
Google, for its part, is testing the waters of fully autonomous driving, recording 2 million miles on the road just last month. Because the aim is to reduce accidents due to driver error, the Mountain View company wants to be certain that all roadblocks, most especially those concerning safety, are out of the way before it speeds past its rivals.