Waymo put its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan on display at CES 2019.
Waymo put its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan on display at CES 2019.

Image: DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images

“Dashing through the snow in a Level 4 self-driving car…”

That’s what Google autonomous car spinoff Waymo is humming today (probably) after announcing plans for a self-driving car factory in southeast Michigan. 

The company said it’s building the “world’s first factory 100%-dedicated to the mass production” of Level 4 autonomous vehicles, which technically don’t require a driver in the front seat. (So far, Waymo has decided to keep a safety operator up front anyway.)

The first order of business is finding a facility in Michigan and then hiring engineers, operations staff, and fleet coordinators to build and eventually test the self-driving cars. Waymo has a Michigan presence already with a development center in Novi that opened in 2016. The space served as a testing spot for the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, which was used in a self-driving taxi service launched last year in the Phoenix area. 

The minivans have also experienced snowy conditions before, but are mainly driven in warmer, dry climates like the San Francisco Bay Area and Arizona. In 2017, Waymo ventured out to the public roads in Michigan with the intention of testing its autonomous minivans in snow and ice.

But how well it can handle inclement weather has been questioned in recent months. Near Phoenix, a Waymo One rider told the Verge the car was put into manual mode because it couldn’t handle rain.

Waymo plans to put its own software and hardware into cars at the new factory with the help of Magna, an auto supplier that builds self-driving kits for Lyft’s autonomous vehicles. Waymo already leads the way in self-driven miles tested. Now it’s pushing even further towards a robot-car future. 

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