Waymo Slashes Self-Driving Sensor Costs By 90 Percent, Minivan Fleet Pounds Pavement This Month

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Late last year, Alphabet (Google’s parent company) spun off its self-driving car division into a new company: Waymo. As the year came to a close, we learned more details about its self-driving fleet, which has grown to include 100 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans. These newer vehicles join Waymo’s existing fleet of autonomous Lexus RX 450h Hybrids.

Google this week announced that the sensor suite used on the Pacifica Hybrids has been completely designed in-house. That means that the cameras, sensors and software used to power the self-driving vehicles have Google’s Waymo’s fingerprints all over it. Even the mapping software, the dominant Google Maps, is a part of what helps the Waymo fleet successfully navigate city streets.

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Waymo says that this in-house approach allows it to dramatically cut costs associated with outfitting vehicles with self-driving technology. Using off-the-shelf components, it cost Google around $75,000 to outfit a Toyota Prius with LIDAR sensors. Now, those costs have been slashed by 90 percent, meaning that Waymo can outfit its new fleet with both short- and long-range LIDAR sensors to its exact specifications for less than $8,000.

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Offering a tightly-integrated, low-cost autonomous platform that consists of both hardware and software for auto manufacturers is much more appealing to Waymo than developing its own vehicle. And it’s a much better use of company resources as well.

So, what about those 100 Chrysler Pacifica minivans that just rolled off the assembly line? Waymo CEO John Krafcik said today that the hybrids will start hitting California and Arizona streets starting later this month.