Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' agreement with Google to test self-driving technology in the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivan may pave the way for greater acceptance of autonomous driving if the companies can get past legal barriers, fleet industry sources said.
Autonomous driving technology must gain greater public acceptance and surmount legal and insurance related questions, but its deployment into a mainstream vehicle such as an FCA minivan is a step forward, said Doug Peters, advanced analytics product leader at Element Fleet Management.
"There are at least two big hurdles for the autonomous vehicle initiative," Peters said. "The first is adoption or acceptance of autonomous driving from the passenger (formerly the driver). These types of OEM partnerships are very exciting and help with acceptance and adoption by bringing the technology to existing passenger platforms such as the Pacifica. The second hurdle is the legal and insurance related questions of autonomous driving. I believe that second hurdle may take longer than driver acceptance."
The partnership represents an incremental step toward fully autonomous vehicles that takes a back seat to other near-term safety initiatives from automakers, said Bob Glose, CEI's vice president of operations and enterprise resources.
"Google’s cooperation with a major auto maker in the testing and development of a self-driving car is what you would expect in what is going to be a very long process to prove whether it can be a safe and viable alternative," Glose said. "There are a lot of questions and open issues, and not all of them are technological. So I don’t see autonomous vehicles entering fleets any time in the near future. What’s coming a lot sooner is fleet adoption of forward crash avoidance systems. Twenty OEMs are going to make them standard equipment by 2022. Self-driving cars in fleets are much farther away than that."
Under the partnership, FCA engineers will integrate Google's self-driving technology into 100 Pacifica Hybrid minivans that will be added to Google's test fleet.
The choice of the Pacifica is likely the result of the size requirements for Google's self-driving technology.
"Lidar, radar, and lots of compute power will need to be incorporated into the vehicle," Peters said. "Most of these technologies have shrunk significantly over the years, but I can imagine the Chrysler engineers feeling more confident incorporating these technologies into a larger platform like the Pacifica."
Peters sees possibilities for forward-looking delivery fleets.
"From a fleet manager perspective I think there will be an opportunity for leading edge fleets to pilot these vehicles, possibly in some 'milk-route' type delivery fleets," Peters said.
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