avatarby Nick HallOctober 10, 20160 comments

Google is raising its game with its autonomous program and is about to unleash a fleet of 100 Chrysler Pacifica hybrid vans.

The company is building the cars right now and this is a big deal for Google, which has been working on self-driving technology for seven years and still has just 58 vehicles on its fleet.

Google is focusing more on the actual system than building a car, but there’s no getting round the fact that data counts and the search engine giant just doesn’t have enough. Its vehicles have covered 2 million, tightly controlled miles, while Tesla’s beta testers, otherwise known as its customers, will blast through 300 million miles very soon.

The competition is leaving Google behind

Now Google is working in a different way and that is its choice, but with 24 Lexus hybrids on the road and 34 of its own pod cars working in Mountain View, Phoenix, Austin and Kirkland, it is lagging so far behind the likes of Tesla and even Uber that it just has to do something drastic.

It needs to get these plug-in hybrid minivans out on the road as soon as possible, but it will take time. Six have been delivered, but equipping 100 cars with the self-driving tech and the sensors, on-board computers, data loggers and transmitters required to analyze it is a major task in itself.

The new cars have smaller sensors all round and the cars might not stick out quite so much when they’re out in the wild. But the main thing is that they’re out there.

Forget the pod car, we won’t get that

Google recently reiterated that it has no interest in building a car, dashing any hopes that we would see the pod cars on the open market. Instead it is building the ultimate driver, which interacts with the people in its path and can interpret complex human behavior.

Every manufacturer is looking for a system that can truly read the road and Google looks to be on to something. It’s a deal that works for Fiat-Chrysler, too, which has struggled to find a suitable tech partner to develop a world-beating system.

They don’t come much bigger than the world’s biggest search engine, although Google again reinforced the point recently that it would not be forced into an exclusive deal, and it makes sense that it will be easier for Fiat-Chrysler to secure preferential terms and preferred customer status if it helps develop the system.

But there was a real danger that it would spend too long in theoretical development and would simply get left behind by the competition. In fact, we’re probably past that point.

This fleet could help it close the gap and provide real world test data that will either prove that Google got it right in the modeling stage or that it has some serious work to do. Either way, it’s a seriously positive step.

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