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Google: New Auto-Driving Minivans to be Released at the End of January 2017

Jan 12, 2017 10:57 AM EST

Google's self-driving startup Waymo may hold the key to true automated driving. Its conception late last year has finally had one of its first plans to fruition: to deploy its new fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans onto the public for the first time at the end of January.

According to the Verge, this big announcement was told in the North American International Auto Show today.

The vehicles will be touring Mountain View, California, and Phoenix, Arizona, where the company's elf-driving Lexus SUVs have already driven for thousands and thousands of miles for the past few years.

Now, Waymo has given the public its first-ever look at the self-driving Pacificas. Verge says this has been under wraps since the deal between the tech giant and Fiat Chrysler has been announced way back in May 2016.

However, perhaps the most special thing about the minivans was that for the first time, Waymo is completely producing all the technology for these cars. This means the tech that allows the cars to automatically drive themselves are produced in-house.

According to Recode, for the first time, Google is now building its own cameras, sensors and even mapping technology. This can cut costs by not purchasing anything off the shelves, as it had done in the past.

This allows the company to exert more control over its self-driving hardware, and even bring the cost down to ridiculously cheap levels. Waymo CEO John Krafcik said in a speech in Detroit that the company was even able to remove 90 percent of costs by making its own LIDAR sensors; meaning sensors that Google purchases for $75,000 back in 2009 now cost $7,500 since Waymo is building it themselves.

Of course, the cost for LIDAR sensors, even hi-end ones, have dropped a lot through the years. For instance Velodyne, a top supplier for LIDAR, retails its sensors for $7,999. However, if Waymo builds its own LIDAR sensors, they are able to get it to the specs they need. For instance, they now have two new types of LIDAR, long-range and short-range, allowing the vehicles to see objects close and far from the car.

However, Waymo appears to have no interest in becoming an auto parts supplier like 3M and Delphi. It looks like it's more interested in becoming partners with OEMs or original equipment manufacturers like Chrysler and Honda. 

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