A recent article in the MIT Technology Review provided a clue as to why Google — or Alphabet, as we’re now to call it — chose the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivan as the first vehicle to adopt its self-driving car technology. It actually makes sense on several levels. Although the partnership of Alphabet and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles for self-driving cars may or may not go beyond the Pacifica, Alphabet’s choice of partners in developing an autonomous minivan — which is ultimately about creating an autonomous taxi — is logical.
2017 Chrysler Pacifica
A reboot of Chrysler’s Town & Country minivan, the Pacifica is an all-new vehicle brimming with the latest leading-edge driver-assistance and safety technology, including parallel- and perpendicular-parking assist. There’s even a hybrid version on its way. Its Stow ‘n Go Seating, which allows the second- and third-row seats to fold flat with the cargo floor, ensures plenty of versatility in what Pacifica can haul. These are all compelling reasons for Pacifica to serve as a platform for a self-driving taxi.
But all of this aside, what really attracted Alphabet to the Pacifica was its electronic-closing sliding side doors and rear hatch.
Apparently, the full suite of driver-assistance technology was simply dwarfed by the Pacifica’s electronic-closing doors. Why? An engineer at Alphabet was quoted as saying that the average consumer expects an autonomous vehicle (AV) to be able not only to drive itself without human input but also to perform a wide range of functions on its own. One of those is closing its own doors.
The reasoning is that people will become so accustomed to self-driving cars performing a full range of tasks that taxi passengers will likely hop out of the vehicle at their final destination and not bother closing the door. In such situations, the AV would be stranded and need to summon a human to close the door before it could proceed to its next pickup.
Over the Horizon
At the heart of the matter is the fact that no one really has a clue what the average consumer will expect from AVs as they become a larger part of our everyday life. Will people become so dependent on self-driving cars doing absolutely everything that they can’t be expected to even bother shutting the vehicle’s door when they exit? Perhaps.
What it means to you: As carmakers continue to focus on self-driving cars, we can only expect driver-assistance technology to reach into every corner of our vehicles. Of course, this will translate into more convenience, but higher costs, as well.