• Self-driving car spinoff Waymo will buy up to 20,000 electric vehicles from Jaguar Land Rover to help realise its vision for a robotic ride-hailing service.
The commitment announced Tuesday marks another step in Waymo’s evolution from a secret project started in Google nine years ago to a spin-off that’s gearing up for an audacious attempt to reshape the transportation business.
The Jaguar deal will expand upon a fleet of self-driving cars that Waymo has been gradually building in partnership with Fiat Chrysler since 2015. Waymo initially equipped about 600 Pacifica minivans with its self-driving technology before negotiating to buy “thousands” more of the vehicles.
The minivans will be part of a ride-hailing service that Waymo plans to launch in Phoenix later this year. If all goes well, Waymo expects to expand the service to other states.
Jaguar will deliver its vehicles for Waymo’s ride-hailing from 2020 to 2022. The 20,000 “I-Pace” models will provide up to one million rides per day, according to Waymo.
Financial terms of Jaguar’s deal with Waymo weren’t disclosed. Jaguar lists the starting price for its I-Pace model at about $70,000, a figure that translates into $1.4bn for 20,000 vehicles.
The alliance with Jaguar will give Waymo a way to appeal to passengers who want to ride in a more luxurious car or want to avoid the pollution caused by vehicles fueled by gasoline.
• NASA is delaying the launch of its next-generation space telescope — its highest science priority — until at least 2020.
Top officials said Tuesday that more time is needed to assemble and test the James Webb Space Telescope, which is considered a successor to the long-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope.
It’s the latest in a series of delays for the telescope, dating back a decade. More recently, Webb was supposed to fly this year, but last fall NASA bumped the launch until 2019.
“Simply put, we have one shot to get this right before going into space,” explained Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator of science.
For such a highly complex machine designed to “look at the universe in a way that we’ve never seen it”, there can be no shortcuts, he stressed. The telescope will study planets orbiting other stars, while probing the earliest times of the cosmos.
Some mistakes were made while preparing the telescope, which slowed work. At the same time, NASA underestimated the scale of the job, Zurbuchen said.
Unlike Hubble, which was serviced regularly by space shuttle astronauts, Webb will orbit the sun at a point about one million miles from Earth — unreachable in case of a breakdown.