The first prototypes of driver-less minivans were recently spotted by the CEO of Enterprise Garage Consultancy in San Francisco who sent a number of spy photos to Electrek, a news site focused on ''the transition from fossil fuel transportation to the electric and the surrounding clean ecosystems.''
The prototypes are a product of the deal signed last May by Google and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), who agreed to make a fleet of self-driving Pacifica minivans in the first step towards a broader autonomous car deal between the two companies (See: Google, Fiat Chrysler tie up for driverless cars ).
The photos feature over a dozen plug-in hybrid Chrysler Pacificas equipped with cameras and LIDAR sensors mounted on their roofs.
Google had neither announced the deployment timeline of the minivans nor their purpose.
According to commentators, it should be noted that the minivans were spotted around the same time that Google made two significant announcements - its self-driving Lexus SUVs had driven a combined 2 million miles on public roads and; its plans to launch a new ride-sharing service centred on carpooling.
According to commentators, minivans were a good vehicle for carpooling.
FCA chief, Sergio Marchionne, had made it clear he had great plans for his company's partnership with Google. But it is not clear whether Google has similar plans with FCA, considering the non-exclusive nature of the deal, its statements about wanting to work with multiple manufacturing partners was.
The move is seen as another step in Google's ambitions for automation and a 'commercialisation friendly' vehicle.
According to Electrek, the roof-mounted sensors added to the new white vehicles were much smaller than existing sensor arrays.
The additional vehicles were needed as Google expanded real-world testing, which had racked up two million miles on public roads.
According to Google, it would own the gas-electric hybrid vans, and it was not currently licensing driver-less technology to Fiat Chrysler or anyone else.