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Waymo’s Detroit plant begins outfitting cars with driverless tech

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At least 30 have been equipped at the factory near Hamtramck

A row of six white sedans idle in a large warehouse with with steel beams in the ceiling. There are black cameras mounted on top of the cars.
Jaguar I-PACEs outfitted with Waymo self-driving technology.
Courtesy of Waymo

In April this year, Google self-driving affiliate Waymo announced that it would be opening the world’s first factory dedicated to the mass production of autonomous vehicles in Detroit. It had an ambitious timeline of mid-2019.

Impressively, it hit that mark.

Waymo CEO John Krafcik said Monday at the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit held in Detroit that his company, along with Canadian auto supplier Magna, have begun integrating its autonomous driver technology into Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans and electric Jaguar I-PAC SUVs. He made similar statements in September at the IAA Frankfurt auto show.

“The first 30 of these cars are now at our facilities in California gearing up for development and testing,” he said in Frankfurt.

Waymo repurposed the former American Axle & Manufacturing plant near Hamtramck at a cost of $13.6 million. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation provided the company with a $2 million grant, contingent on hiring 100 employees by 2021. If Waymo hires 400 employees, it would qualify for $6 million in additional grants, or $20,000 per employee.

The company declined to say how many employees it had hired so far.

Waymo’s goal for its technology is full autonomy, or to “take the human completely out of the loop,” said Krafcik. That means there wouldn’t need to be a person with a license present in the car.

According to the Detroit News, its 5th generation “driver,” installed on top of the vehicles, includes “a new sensor kit developed in-house with light-detection LIDAR, radar, cameras and one other sensor modality that Waymo has not disclosed publicly.” There’s also a computer package in the trunk.