Back in December, just a few days after Google's self-driving car project became known as Waymo, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced that it was partnering with the new company to build a test fleet of autonomous vehicles. According to the agreement, FCA ponied up 100 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids, and Waymo tricked out those minivans with self-driving tech.
Now, FCA has expanded its commitment to the program, and you might have a chance to ride in one of the self-driving Pacificas for free--if being carted around by an autonomous minivan is your thing.
FCA has revealed that it's helping Waymo grow by adding 500 Pacifica Hybrids to the self-driving fleet. Those vehicles should be delivered to Waymo in May, after which they'll be equipped with self-driving tech and sent onto the streets.
What's more, Waymo is offering folks in Phoenix, Arizona a chance to ride in those minivans. If you're a Phoenix resident, all you have to do is apply at Waymo.com/apply. The rides are free, but you'll be expected to offer feedback to Waymo so the company can improve the service. (You can find out more on the company's handy FAQ.)
Call us unbridled optimists, but this sounds like great news.
For starters, it seems as if Waymo is going about this in a safe, sane, sensible way. Unlike some programs we could mention, Waymo and its former parent, Google, have been testing and refining self-driving cars since 2009. Their technology is far and away the most efficient on the road. If we were going to step into a self-driving vehicle, many of us would ask for one made by Waymo.
We also like the pairing of Waymo's technology with the Chrysler Pacifica. Minivans are perfect for taxi service and stand to make life easier for families like the one shown in the overview video above. Minivans can also be easily equipped for accessibility, offering the promise of independence to many older and/or physically disabled people.
Fleets like these won't erase the need for privately owned vehicles anytime soon, but for many folks, they could be a great new option.