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Waymo Teaming up With Honda on Autonomous Vehicle

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【Summary】Just days after announcing a partnership with Jaguar to deploy 20,000 of its new electric i-Pace SUVs for its self-driving taxi service, Waymo CEO John Krafcik announced that Waymo is working with Honda on some type of autonomous vehicle, Bloomberg has reported.

Eric Walz    Apr 02, 2018 5:34 PM PT
Waymo Teaming up With Honda on Autonomous Vehicle
author: Eric Walz   

Just days after announcing a partnership with Jaguar to deploy 20,000 of its new electric i-Pace SUVs for its self-driving taxi service, Waymo CEO John Krafcik announced that Waymo is working with Honda on some type of autonomous vehicle, Bloomberg has reported.

The Waymo CEO is not revealing many details, but suggested that a deal should be announced soon and may include a delivery vehicle of some kind. We reached out to a Waymo spokesperson who declined to comment.

Krafcik said not to expect the new service to take the form of a "traditional car driven on roads." This may indicate that it is some type of autonomous vehicle. Last month, Waymo announced that would test self-driving trucks in the Atlanta metro area.

His comments suggest Waymo is ready to work with an established automaker on a completely new vehicle, rather than modifying an existing vehicle, which it has done to the Chrysler Pacifica minivans for its robo-taxi service in Arizona. Waymo, purchased those vans from Fiat Chrysler and outfitted them with its own suite of autonomous driving technology.

The Honda model may move people and goods, Krafcik hinted. It might be smaller than a truck and could come without a steering wheel or brakes. A Honda spokesman said the companies are "continuing to explore" the relationship.

An entirely new vehicle built from the ground up in partnership with a major OEM would be new territory for the self-driving company, which traditionally has collaborated with automakers to outfit existing models with its self-driving technology.

General Motors is working on a similar deal with San Francisco-based self-driving startup Cruise Automation. GM purchased Cruise last year for $1 billion and is working with the company to integrate its self-driving tech into a mass-produced Chevy Bolt EV.

At CES this year, Japanese automaker Toyota displayed the "E-Palettes," a modular self-driving vehicle that could deliver people, food, or even an entire retail store on wheels right to your doorstep.

Since announcing its self-driving trucking service last month, Waymo said that it would soon begin delivering freight for Google's data centers in Atlanta. The trucks won't be completely driverless, but will be operating on public roads during the pilot, the company said.

Waymo's partnership with Honda to build a brand new autonomous vehicle could be one of Waymo's biggest automotive industry deals to date.

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Waymo CEO John Krafcik announcing the autonomous Jaguar i-Pace, the newest vehicle in its fleet

The company has over 5 million miles of autonomous testing under its belt without any major incidents. Meanwhile, Waymo's competitors have not fared so well. A self-driving Uber vehicle struck and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona in March and last week a Tesla driver was killed in California after his Model X SUV slammed into a highway divider while operating in autonomous mode.

In an interview with The Verge in New York last week, Krafcik said the Uber crash reinforced his mission to build cars that can operate more safely than human drivers. He also displayed confidence in Waymo's technology by continuing autonomous vehicle testing on public roads in the wake of the crash, even as other companies, including Nvidia, suspended their self-driving tests.

"We've been so focused on safety and we always have been," he said. "It makes sense for us to continue that good work, and make it safer and better."

Krafcik said the goal was to have a range of vehicles to accommodate different types of transportation.

"We're interested in diversity of OEMs and diversity of product forms so we can get closer to the ideal of serving the ideal car for each particular trip that folks ask for," Krafcik told The Verge last week. "So you will see different sized vehicles from Waymo and our OEM partners going forward in our service."

Waymo has deep pockets and leads the industry with its self-driving tech, so any vehicle resulting from this partnership will likely be groundbreaking for whatever function it's intended to perform. Perhaps the vehicle may come without a steering wheel, a first for Honda.

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