Honda R&D Co. has entered into discussions with Waymo, Alphabet Inc.’s new standalone company, to use technology that will enable self-driving capabilities in Honda vehicles.
If discussions lead to a formal agreement, Honda Motor Co. would become the second automaker to work with Waymo, formerly known as the Google self-driving car project. The talks mark another step in Waymo’s move towards commercialization of its autonomous technology.
The automaker said in a statement Wednesday that it is hoping to learn how Waymo’s sensors and software can be integrated into Honda vehicles through collaboration between both companies’ engineers.
As part of the potential agreement, Honda could also provide vehicles to Waymo’s self-driving fleet. The current fleet — which Waymo published photos of on Monday — is comprised of about 30 of Waymo’s own “Koala” cars and 100 Chrysler Pacifica minivans, provided by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles following a deal reached in May.
Honda has said that it plans to introduce vehicles with autonomous driving capabilities on public roads as soon as 2020.
Waymo introduced itself as an independent company last week.
At a press conference, Waymo CEO John Krafcik said it was in talks with automakers but could not disclose details. He added that the company would not manufacture vehicles on its own, but would focus on developing self-driving technology for purposes such as trucking, logistics, ride-hailing and licensing to automakers.
Teaming up vs. going alone
The moves illustrate how carmakers, faced with the high cost of developing autonomous driving tech in-house, are separating into those going it alone, such as General Motors and Ford Motor Co., and those teaming up to spread the costs.
Honda already has tie-ups with tech startups, notably with Southeast Asian ride-hailing service Grab.
It has been working alone to develop cars that can drive themselves on highways by 2020 while stressing vehicles will always require drivers. But it said it was interested in the approach of Google’s self-driving car project — now Waymo — to develop fully autonomous, driverless cars.
“There’s only so much technology a company can develop while focusing on one specific approach,” Honda spokesman Teruhiko Tatebe told Reuters. “By approaching it from multiple angles it’s possible to come up with new innovations quicker.”
At the same time, technology firms such as Waymo have started to form partnerships with automakers to finally get their technology — seven years in the making in the case of Waymo — into more vehicles.
“You’ve got Google, which is engaging with another automaker to apply its technology into different vehicles and different platforms,” said senior analyst Jeremy Carlson at researcher IHS Automotive. “From Honda’s perspective, you get a close-up look at some of the most capable technology in the industry today.”
Honda has been developing automated driving functions and ways to connect vehicles to the internet, as well as artificial intelligence to enable vehicles to “think” while driving.
With Waymo, Honda said it may provide vehicles modified to accommodate the startup’s software — as Fiat Chrysler has done with its Chrysler Pacifica minivans. It also said there was potential for “close” cooperation between Honda and Waymo engineers.
A Waymo representative said the company was “looking forward to exploring opportunities to collaborate with Honda.”
Reuters contributed to this report.