Fiat Chrysler and Google have signed a deal to double the size of the tech giant’s fleet of self-driving cars.
The auto maker will supply 100 Chrysler Pacifica vans and provide engineers to help integrate the technology.
Fiat and Google described the deal as the most advanced partnership to date between Silicon Valley and a traditional auto maker.
Google wants to add more vehicles to its fleet to increase the amount of road testing it does.
Fiat CEO Srgio Marchionne has in the past raised also concerns about the tech industry’s impact on the auto makers.
Sergio Marchionne called tech companies moving into the sector “disruptive interlopers” and questioned the caliber of the vehicles they could produce.
John Krafcik, Google’s head of self-driving cars, said: “The opportunity to work closely with [Fiat] engineers will accelerate our efforts to develop a fully self-driving car that will make our roads safer.”
Google has said it believes driverless cars could be ready to goes on sale by 2020.
The announcement of the partnership came a week after Astro Teller, the head of “Moon Shots” at Google said the driverless cars project may soon move from under the umbrella of the Google X division that focuses on futuristic innovations and projects.
Google will own the Fiat cars, and both companies will be free to work with other companies to develop driverless technology.
The deal could propel Fiat to the head of the self-driving pack and position it to become a major manufacture for Google.
Back in 2012, Google managed to successfully lobby the state of Nevada to allow driverless cars to take to the roads. Ever since, we’ve watched in wonder as the Google car successfully navigated more than a million miles, all by itself.
This image provided by Google shows a very early version of Google’s prototype self-driving car. The two-seater won’t be sold publicly, but Google on Tuesday, May 27, 2014 said it hopes by this time next year, 100 prototypes will be on public roads. (AP Photo/Google)
It’s all been made possible by recent advances in artificial intelligence. It was once thought that making a driverless car would be impossible because it is not possible to program a computer to deal with every possible eventuality on the road.
But now the science of artificial intelligence has moved on substantially. Robots now have the capacity to learn without having to be preprogrammed. Instead, they learn a bit like you and I. Just like us a computer can now receive information from the physical world and interpret in a useful way. In a way, it can really “see.”
Google call this technology deep learning. It’s what allowed IBM’s computer Watson to beat the best players in the world at Jeopardy! back in 2011. And it’s what’s allowing the Google car to navigate the roads of Nevada today.
Each time the car goes out, it builds up a bigger picture of how the road works. Being a computer, it’s then able to remember millions of specific patterns out there in the real world. Nobody programmed all those patterns into the car. It just learned, like we do, that patterns can be generalized.
For us, this is a piece of cake. For computers, this is a quantum leap. It means that they can predict when dangers might be about the arise on the road and take the necessary action to prevent them from happening.
It’s essential we use this technology given the sheer number of car accidents on our roads. In America alone some fifty thousand people die each year, and hundreds of thousands of others are injured.
Then, consider the knock-on effects of all that carnage. Millions of dollars of investment in people, wasted. Billions of dollars of insurance paid out just to replace car wrecks. Thousands of businesses disrupted by unforeseen rises in their insurance premiums.
The autonomous car has the potential to solve these problems, and it’s all based on one of the highest technologies out there. Companies like Tesla are already selling consumer cars with some elements of autonomy. Tesla’s model S, for example, will drive you down the highway without you having to lift a finger.
We’re not quite at the stage where the cars can do it all themselves, though. Manufacturers still have to figure out how to make the cars work when it’s dark and when roads don’t have sidelines. But the road testing that’s been done so far is promising, and the number of naysayers is dwindling.
It’s quite incredible that 10 years ago the idea that we might have the first fully autonomous car by 2020 was far-fetched. Now, though, it seems like a certainty. The technology is virtually proven. All that it needs is one final push and we can finally rid ourselves of the endless carnage on our roads.