Waymo cuts costs, raises reliability of its self-driving cars

Waymo CEO: A  new way forward in mobility
Waymo CEO: A new way forward in mobility

Waymo, the subsidiary of Alphabet formerly known as the Google Self Driving Car Project, is poised to offer its autonomous-drive technology in millions of vehicles as it lowers costs for key components and improves the reliability of its self-driving.

"Our latest innovations have brought us closer to scaling our technology to potentially millions of people every day," said John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo.

Later this month in California and Arizona, Waymo will start testing its technology in Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Minivans, modified through a partnership with Fiat-Chrysler.

It's the next step in a six year journey that has seen the Google self-driving car go from limited drives in a small number of modified Lexus SUV's, to testing a fleet of vehicles on public roads across four states.

Over that time, the cost of LIDAR technology, which gives Waymo vehicles a view of everything on and around a vehicle driving down a street, has dropped dramatically.

Alphabet's self-driving minivan to hit the roads in 2017
Alphabet's self-driving minivan to hit the roads in 2017

In fact, Krafcik said the cost of a package of LIDAR sensors and radar in a car—which , used to run approximately $75,000—has fallen by more than 90 percent.

In addition, Waymo said it has now developed short and long range LIDAR sensors that allow its vehicles to "see small people and objects close to the car, and spot tiny objects far away, too," the CEO said.

"We're serious about creating full self-driving cars that can help millions of people," said Krafcik. "To do that, we have to oversee both the self-driving software and self-driving hardware."

The company says the performance of it self-driving technology is working four times better today than it was a year ago. As a result, Krafcik says Waymo's test drivers now take control of the vehicle and disengage the autonomous-drive system approximately once every five thousand miles driven.

To date, Waymo and its predecessor have logged more than 2.5 million miles testing autonomous-drive technology.

Waymo is not alone in the race to develop autonomous drive vehicles. Several automakers and tech firms are also investing heavily in the technology.

While some companies like Tesla already offer semi-autonomous technology—where the driver can take their hands off the wheel for brief periods of time—it is likely to be several years before people can turn over the majority of the driving to the "brains" in their vehicle.