• Waymo Self-Driving Chrysler Minivan

Waymo Self-Driving Chrysler Minivan (Photo : Facebook )

Google's self-driving car is back in tech news as the Waymo division has just showcased its Chrysler Pacifica minivan at this year's North American International Auto Show. The big upgrades made to the autonomous vehicle (AV) intimate that the Alphabet company's spin-off might have never stopped improving its robotic car tech.     

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John Krafcik is Waymo's Chief Executive. He shared at the annual car show that the hybrid minivan's autonomous system includes a new network of sensors such as cameras, radar, and Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) sensors.     

Waymo is developing its own sensors to work smoother with the driverless technology. This has resulted in a system that can detect objects more clearly, from greater distances, and at a lower cost, according to CNET.

Krafcik pointed out that high-end LIDAR cost up to $75,000 a couple years ago. The Google spin-off has used in-house tech to lower the off-the-shelf price tag by 90 percent, and hopes dropping costs will make the hardware technology affordable for millions of car and truck drivers.

In fact, the costs of high-quality LIDAR sensors have dropped sharply over the years. Waymo, however, can also now build custom sensors

The new vision system of Waymo's autonomous minivans includes eight modules. They feature multiple sensors and a front-facing 360-degree system with ultra-high resolution.  Waymo's CEO claimed the vision system can pick up orange construction cones while the smart car is rolling at full speed.  

The Google spin-off also explained it has improved its radar tech. It can now detect forward-moving vehicles and also ones backing up. Radar is important to make self-driving cars safer in weather like rain, snow, and fog when sensors are less effective.

Krafcik pointed out that Google's AV prototypes are quickly racking up more road test miles. The company took six years to hit one million miles, but is on track to reach three million miles in May. That million-mile point will have taken eight months.

Waymo reported it will start testing its autonomous Chrysler minivans on public roads later this month, according to The Verge. It announced the news at the Detroit Auto Show on January 8, Sunday.

The Pacifica minivans will be tested in Mountain View, California where Google is headquartered and Phoenix, Arizona. Google and Fiat Chrysler announced they were joining forces in May 2016.

Waymo and Chrysler could later launch an autonomous ride-sharing service to take on Uber. It might use Google's Waze mapping service it purchased in 2013.

Here's NVIDIA's self-driving car at CES 2017: