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Waymo self-driving minivans to begin public road tests soon

Google spin off Waymo announces trials of new self-driving vehicles, with all technologies involved developed in-house to cut costs and improve performance

Google spin-off Waymo has announced that its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans are set to begin testing on public roads in January 2017.

The tests are scheduled for Mountain View, California and Phoenix, Arizona, where the company has conducted tests for its self-driving Lexus SUVs in the past few years.

Waymo, which according to its website stands for a new way forward in mobility, unveiled the self-driving Pacificas at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on 7 January 2017, and announced that all technology for the cars is being produced in-house.

That means for the first time, Waymo is making all its own cameras, sensors, and mapping technology, rather than relying on any products from third-party suppliers, reports The Verge.

The move is not only aimed at enabling the company to have more control over the technology used in the vehicles, but also at improving performance and cutting the production costs.

In a speech in Detroit, Waymo chief executive John Krafcik said that by building its own Lidar laser distance measuring sensors, the company is reducing costs by 6.25% to 25% of third-party prices, and is able to make them to its own specifications to operate at short, medium and long range.

“A single integrated system means all the different parts of a self-driving car work together seamlessly,” he said.

Waymo is an independent company operating under Alphabet, Google’s parent company, as of December 2016.

Read more about self-driving vehicles

When Waymo was spun off, the company indicated that it was no longer planning to build its own cars, but would instead concentrate on developing self-driving technology that can be applied to vehicles manufactured by companies such as Fiat Chrysler.  

It is unclear whether or not Waymo still plans to build driverless cars without steering wheels and brake or accelerator pedals, but Krafcik is on record as saying Waymo is in the business of making better drivers not better cars, and in December 2016, Waymo said that driver controls will not be removed due to the regulatory environment, according to Business Insider.

Waymo has said it can see its self-driving tech being used for ride-hailing vehicles, personal transportation, public transit systems, and even trucks.

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