Google is partnering with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to expand its self-driving car project, the companies said Tuesday in a joint press release.
Though Google has been an industry leader in the quest for self-driving cars, this is the first time it will work directly with an automaker to integrate its self-driving technology into a passenger vehicle.
According to the statement, around 100 Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans will be used for the testing, which will more than double the size of Google's current self-driving fleet.
"FCA has a nimble and experienced engineering team and the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan is well-suited for Google's self-driving technology," said John Krafcik, CEO of the self-driving car project. "The opportunity to work closely with FCA engineers will accelerate our efforts to develop a fully self-driving car that will make our roads safer and bring everyday destinations within reach for those who cannot drive."
In February, NPR spoke with Chris Urmson, the technical director of Google's self-driving car project about the benefits of making self-driving cars a reality. He said:
"In America, there's 33,000 people that are killed on the road every year, and to put that in perspective, that's equivalent of a 737 falling out of the sky five days a week. ... There is just a tremendous opportunity there to save lives — 94 percent of those accidents are due to human error, and the good news is we can build software and hardware that can see the road and pay attention all the time and react more quickly and keep people safe on the road. The other big aspect is accessibility. When you think about the baby boomer generation, they're starting to get to a point where they feel uncomfortable driving or their family feels uncomfortable about them driving. Making sure they have access to transportation, to continue to do all the things they do today — to go and visit their grandchildren or just to go to a coffee shop — we think that is an incredibly important use for this type of technology."
Google's self-driving cars have already logged more than 1.5 million miles in four cities: Mountain View, Calif., Austin, Texas, Kirkland, Wash., and Metro Phoenix, Ariz, the company's project website says.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, however, told NPR in February that there are still some concerns over the prospect of autonomous cars.
"Let's think about what it takes to get a driver's license in the first place. When I came out of high school I was ready to get my driver's license and the expectation at that time was the driver would be fully engaged 100 percent of the time when he or she was operating a vehicle. In a world where the vehicle is doing more of the driving task, we are also asking questions of ourselves how we train people to drive in cars like that.