Two tech heavyweights gathered in a San Francisco courtroom last week for what was supposed to be a truly epic battle. Waymo, the self-driving car project of Google parent company Alphabet, had initially sued Uber over the alleged theft of more than 100 trade secrets. According to Waymo, the deed went down when one of its star engineers, Anthony Levandowski, quit and founded an autonomous truck company called Otto, which was acqui-hired by Uber, which like Alphabet wants to be first to market with a self-driving car. At the time, Uber was steered by Travis Kalanick, who last year was forced to step down from the $70 billion ride-hail startup following a series of embarrassing revelations about his leadership style and the sexist, alienating workplace culture that metastasized during his tenure.
Google is working with Fiat Chrysler to develop 100 self-driving 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans, the first time Google has ever partnered directly with an automaker to build a dedicated self-driving car. Google today announced that it is expanding its growing fleet of self-driving test vehicles by adding 100 new minivans. That's big news in-and-of itself, but the bigger deal here is that these 100 new cars will be purpose-built Chrysler minivans -- not modified vehicles as the previous Google self-driving cars were-- marking the first time Google is partnering directly with an auto company to create its futuristic, computer-driven cars. Google says that it currently has modified Lexus SUVs and its own cute if dorky steering wheel-free prototype vehicle in its driverless fleet. We're planning to more than double our fleet with the initial addition of about 100 new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans, and we hope the first few will be on the road by the end of this year.
Google's autonomous driving spinoff, Waymo, has developed sensors that pair with its self-driving software, potentially opening the door for the company to sell a comprehensive system that automakers build into future car models. Google initially built its self-driving software on a prototype car outfitted with sensors, cameras and other hardware from outside suppliers. But to build a more affordable and sophisticated system capable of fully autonomous driving, the company decided it needed to create both halves of the technology, executives said. The announcement comes just weeks after Japanese automaker Honda said it would incorporate Waymo's technology into some of its vehicles. The companies said that deal was centered on research rather than producing vehicles for market, Bloomberg News reported.
Sad news, quirky car enthusiasts: Waymo is taking its fleet of tiny self-driving vehicles off the roads. The autonomous car company announced it will retire the Firefly, the round-topped two-seater that served as the most obvious visual marker of Google's self-driving car efforts long before the Waymo brand was on the scene. The prototype was introduced to the public back in 2014, when it offered awe-struck Californians a first-hand look at the future of autonomous transportation. The Firefly, with its one-of-a-kind steering wheel and pedal-free design, was instrumental in the development of Google's self-driving tech, logging millions of test miles rolling along at 25 mph. "By designing and building a truly self-driving vehicle from scratch, we were able to crack some of the earliest self-driving puzzles -- where to place the sensors, how to integrate the computer, what controls passengers need in a car that drives itself," the Waymo team wrote in the blog post commemorating the Firefly's retirement.
Take note from Google, the best April Fools' Day pranks from brands are ones that make fun of itself. In an obvious spoof of its self-driving cars, Google Netherlands launched a parody video on Friday highlighting its new product: self-driving bicycles. Although the clip is simultaneously poking fun at America's car culture, self-driving innovation and the Netherland's bike culture, it's not unconceivable and could easily be the norm one day.