Self-driving minivans will start test drives at the end of January 2017

Waymo is Google’s self-driving car division which has been developing self-driving cars for eight years. The company will start testing its new fleet of minivans on public roads in California and Arizona at the end of January and it expects to reach 3 million miles of test-driving this May.

The minivans were built in collaboration with Fiat Chrysler and they are Chrysler Pacifica hybrids equipped with Waymo’s own suite of sensors and radar. The Waymo CEO, John Krafcik, revealed in a speech at the Detroit auto show that Waymo built the sensors, radar and software for the new minivans itself.

The CEO also stated that the company felt the system would work better if it was developed specifically for self-driving instead of using off-the-shelf parts.

A single integrated system means that all the different parts of a self-driving car work together seamlessly, said Krafcik.

The company was also able to significantly lower the cost of the system. For example, the rooftop lidar, which uses lasers to give the car a three-dimensional picture of the world, cost $75,000 a few years ago. Waymo has brought that cost down by 90 percent and has developed its own short-range and long-range lidar. The long-range lidar can see a football helmet two football fields away.

Waymo has repeatedly said that it doesn’t plan to build its own cars. The company will continue to provide self-driving systems to established carmakers, car-sharing services or others. In addition to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Honda Motor Co. recently announced that it’s in talks with Waymo about using its technology in Honda vehicles.