Autonomous Vehicles

Waymo will outfit self-driving cars in Detroit, repurposing old American Axle facility

The factory will equip Waymo's fleet of cars with the hardware to enable geofenced autonomy.

As a local Detroiter, I've seen a handful of Waymo's test vehicles crawling around the west side of the Detroit Metro area. Hopefully, this move means I'll be seeing even more of them soon.

Waymo

Waymo first announced its intention to set up shop in Michigan in January, but it didn't have a location nailed down at that point. Now, just a couple months later, the Alphabet subsidiary has figured out where to plant its roots.

Waymo announced Tuesday that it will repurpose an old American Axle & Manufacturing facility in Detroit for its Michigan operations. In a Medium post, Waymo said it wanted a building that could be up and running by mid-2019 in an area with "a strong pool of talent across engineering, operations and fleet coordination."

The autonomy arm of Alphabet first established a footprint in Michigan in late 2017, when the company announced it would start testing its fleet of Chrysler Pacifica self-driving development vehicles in the southeast corner of The Great Lakes State. Waymo followed that up with an announcement this past January that it would seek to establish a manufacturing facility in the same area.

The facility will be used to outfit Waymo's vehicles with the hardware and software necessary to enable the cars' autonomy. In addition to engineers putting everything together, the location will also house fleet coordinators and other jobs dedicated to bolstering its local operations. Waymo claims it will be the world's first factory dedicated to producing Level 4 autonomous vehicles. SAE Level 4 autonomous vehicles, by definition, are capable of driving themselves in specific geofenced locations under specific operating conditions.

It's possible that Waymo's efforts could result in Detroit being the second location to tout Waymo's commercial self-driving service. Right now, Waymo One is running as a pilot program in parts of the greater Phoenix area, and the company recently put its app on the Google Play app store in an effort to expand ridership, even though prospective riders will have to be plucked and approved from a waitlist.