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Waymo and Volvo ink deal to build an all-new electric robo-taxi

Waymo has inked a deal with Volvo to develop an all-new driverless electric vehicle for ridsharing use, the two companies announced on Thursday, June 25.

The autonomous-vehicle company said it will work with Volvo and its global brands, Polestar and Lynk & Co., to integrate its self-driving Waymo Driver system into a new mobility-focused electric-vehicle platform geared toward ridesharing services.

The vehicle will be capable of Level 4 autonomy, meaning it will be able to drive itself in most scenarios. The internationally recognized rating system created by the Society of Automotive Engineers comprises six categories, with Level 0 offering no autonomy, and Level 5 full autonomy.

Waymo is already trialing a self-driving ridesharing service in Arizona, using a modified Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan to ferry around paying passengers who hail the vehicles using a custom app. But the Volvo deal offers the tantalizing prospect of a new vehicle designed specifically for autonomous driving, one that could come without a steering wheel or pedals. Google, whose self-driving unit was later spun off into Waymo, attempted such a design with the Firefly, an autonomous pod that it tested between 2014 and 2017.

Thursday’s announcement included no details about when or where the robo-taxi service might launch. Digital Trends has reached out to the companies for more information and we will update this piece when we hear back.

Adam Frost, Waymo’s chief automotive officer, said Volvo “shares our vision of creating an autonomous future where roads are safer, and transportation is more accessible and greener,” while Henrik Green, Volvo’s chief technology officer, acknowledged that the deal “opens up new and exciting business opportunities for Volvo Cars, Polestar, and Lynk & Co.”

Volvo is already partnered with Uber, but its robo-taxi ambitions suffered a blow in 2018 when a self-driving Volvo SUV struck and killed pedestrian Elaine Herzberg during a test drive in Arizona in 2018.

Waymo, meanwhile, certainly isn’t shy about striking partnerships with other automakers to advance its autonomous technology. After using a modified Toyota Prius in the early days of its self-driving program back in 2012, Waymo went on to form its first serious partnership with Fiat Chrysler to use its Pacifica Hybrid minivan as a test vehicle for its self-driving technology. In 2018, Waymo agreed a deal to buy thousands of the minivans to advance its ambitions in the self-driving space. Waymo also formed a partnership with Jaguar to use its all-electric I-Pace crossover for self-driving tests, and is working with the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, too.

As Waymo puts it, the company likes to “focus on custom designing our hardware suite, software, and compute. We then collaborate with carmakers, leveraging their expertise in automotive design, engineering, and manufacturing, to help us create vehicles that integrate easily with the Waymo Driver, making them well-suited for ride hailing, local delivery, trucking, and personal car ownership.”

With that approach, we can expect Waymo to secure more deals with other automakers in the future.

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Trevor Mogg
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