Google Announces Self-Driving Minivan

100 new Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans, to be exact

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Google is working with Fiat Chrysler to develop 100 self-driving 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans, the first time Google has ever partnered directly with an automaker to build a dedicated self-driving car.Google

Google today announced that it is expanding its growing fleet of self-driving test vehicles by adding 100 new minivans. That's big news in-and-of itself, but the bigger deal here is that these 100 new cars will be purpose-built Chrysler minivans — not modified vehicles as the previous Google self-driving cars were— marking the first time Google is partnering directly with an auto company to create its futuristic, computer-driven cars.

Google says that it currently has modified Lexus SUVs and its own cute if dorky steering wheel-free prototype vehicle in its driverless fleet. As Google explains in a Google+ post (yes, Google+ still exists) about the deal:

We’re planning to more than double our fleet with the initial addition of about 100 new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans, and we hope the first few will be on the road by the end of this year. This collaboration with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) is the first time we’ve worked directly with an automaker to create our vehicles. FCA will design the minivans so it’s easy for us to install our self-driving systems, including the computers that hold our self-driving software, and the sensors that enable our software to see what’s on the road around the vehicle. The minivan design also gives us an opportunity to test a larger vehicle that could be easier for passengers to enter and exit, particularly with features like hands-free sliding doors.

According to USA Today, the two companies have been in talks for more than a year. That's all well and good, but there's still no indication of when (if ever) consumers will be able to purchase their own Google self-driving cars, nor when a cooler, sexier, sportier vehicle might be available in self-driving form.

Still, the move is further progress toward an autonomous future. And the idea of a self-driving minivan does offer a roomier option than previous self-driving prototypes we've seen up until now, which will presumably leave future drivers and passengers free to engage in all sorts of other activities.