Waymo has unveiled a design for a self-driving robotaxi without a steering wheel and pedals.
The autonomous-vehicle specialist announced this week that it’s partnered with Chinese automaker Geely to build a Zeekr minivan filled entirely with passenger seats.
The all-electric, self-driving minivan will be designed and developed in Gothenburg, Sweden, before being added to Waymo’s fleet “in the years to come,” according to the U.S. company.
Announcing the Zeekr in a blog post, Waymo said the new vehicle features “a flat floor for more accessible entry, easy ingress and egress thanks to a B-pillarless design, low step-in height, generous head and legroom, and fully adjustable seats.”
It added that riders traveling inside the Zeekr will experience “an interior without steering wheel and pedals, and with plenty of headroom, legroom and reclining seats, screens and chargers within arm’s reach, and an easy to configure and comfortable vehicle cabin.”
While Waymo appears keen to add the Zeekr minivan to its current fleet of autonomous vehicles that are undergoing testing on public roads, safety regulators will have the final say on whether to give the plan the green light, hence no firm timeline from Waymo.
Born out of Google’s autonomous-vehicle program that began in 2009, Alphabet-owned Waymo has been testing a range of vehicles fitted with advanced software and a slew of sensors and cameras that ensure safe travel.
In 2018, Waymo’s increasingly capable technology enabled the launch of an exploratory ridesharing service for a select group of local residents in Phoenix, Arizona, as part of its Waymo One initiative aimed at introducing its product to more members of the public.
Autonomous vehicles in Waymo’s current fleet all contain a steering wheel, and sometimes a safety driver, too, who’s ready to intervene should any anomalies be detected during a journey.
But in a move eagerly anticipated by many, Waymo has finally signaled a clear desire to introduce autonomous vehicles with a design worthy of the name.
Keen followers of Waymo’s story will know that the Zeekr won’t be its first autonomous vehicle to come without a steering wheel. Seven years ago it unveiled the Firefly, a tiny pod-like car designed to test early iterations of its autonomous software. The Firefly was retired in 2017 when Waymo decided to use larger, more conventional vehicles that traveled faster than the pod’s top speed of 25 mph.
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