Google’s self-driving car program was exposed some years back when it was still part of the mysterious Google X research division. The company’s organizational structure has changed markedly since then, and part of that has been a greater emphasis on the self-driving car program.
Earlier this month, Google announced that it was spinning off the driver less car program into its own company called Waymo under the umbrella of Google’s parent company Alphabet. It’s looking for partners to build self-driving cars, and Honda seems interested.
When Google was still running the show, the self-driving car program was actually building cars. It started with retrofitting regular vehicles, but then Google unveiled that strange little bubble car prototype. That’s gone now, and established automakers are filling in. Waymo will make the autonomous technology like sensors and integrated electronics, then car makers can build cards based on that in the same way some make hybrid versions of standard vehicles.
If a deal is reached with Honda, the car maker’s R&D division could shift its focus to working out the finer points of integrating Waymo’s solution rather than developing its own complete self-driving platform. The Google/Waymo tech has already proven very versatile. Google was always keep to point out how many zillions of miles its cards had driven, and the only accidents were the fault of the human backup driver.
Waymo has already unveiled its first test vehicle created with an auto manufacturer, a fully autonomous version of the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan. It has less of a “prototype” vibe than those old Google cars with sensor rigs bolted to the roof, but it’s still clearly a car that had the self-driving hardware added late in the process — the sensor package on the roof is still rather unsightly. The sensors will always need to be somewhat exposed, which will be a challenge for designers. Waymo’s cars use LIDAR, RADAR, cameras, and other sensors to understand the world around the vehicle, so they need full a 360-degree view. Waymo says the new cars have already been tested in various driving conditions, including extreme weather. That would be an encouraging step for self-driving cars.
Honda aims to have a self-driving car in production by 2020 if the deal is done. Its engineers would work closely with Waymo in order to more tightly integrate the technology. Honda could also provide Waymo with some of its cards to be modified like the Pacifica and added to the test fleet.