Google parent Alphabet’s spin-off self-driving division Waymo is focusing on its new found minivan strategy, retiring the compact steering wheel-free autonomous prototype vehicle from driving on public roads. This development was relayed by the company via an official Medium blog post, which talks about the onslaught of self-driving mobility.
Called Firefly, the company’s uber-compact self-driving vehicle was birthed way back in 2014. It went from just being a post-it note prototype to a full-fledged two-seater vehicle, which helped Waymo figure out how to build out most of its self-driving technologies. The proprietary LiDAR and camera-packed dome at the top of each Waymo vehicle has been designed and perfected using the miles tracked by these vehicles.
Talking about how the prototype car came to life and the purpose it was intended to serve, YooJung Ahn, Lead Industrial Designer and Jaime Waydo, Lead Systems Engineer at Waymo write:
From the beginning, Firefly was intendedas a platform to experiment and learn, not for mass production. By designing and building a truly self-driving vehicle from scratch, we were able to crack some of the earliest self-driving puzzles — where to place the sensors, how to integrate the computer, what controls passengers need in a car that drives itself.
While it was believed that the cute prototype vehicle was the future of Waymo’s self-driving efforts but it actually slowed down their progress. Google had been working on its self-driving mobility efforts for the last ten years, and they eventually came to a standstill over the past couple years. And just when we thought the search giant may abandon its ambitious efforts, it announced the birth of Waymo — spinning out and doubling down on the self-driving efforts.
The fireflies had their limitations such as the top speed, which was limited to 25 miles per hour and had to be retired or upgraded down the line. Waymo has chosen the former alternative and opted for third-party automobile partnerships to build on its existing capabilities. It has signed up Chrysler’s Pacifica minivans, hundreds of them, kicking off an official public road test in Arizona back earlier in May. Talking about the same, the blog post mentions,
Now that we’ve moved to our next phase — letting members of the public use our self-driving cars in their daily lives — we’re ready to retire our fleet of Fireflies and focus on integrating our latest technology into vehicles like our new self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan.
Though it is saddening to see one of the most adorable little self-driving vehicles of the future retire from public roads — also killing off Waymo’s automotive ambitions, it is not the end of the company’s efforts. Alphabet is just kicking off the autonomous revolution and already has a massive head start over its competitors — both in terms of technology and on-road tests. It is presently embroiled in a nasty LiDAR patent infringement lawsuit with $68 billion ride-hailing giant Uber, who has also made significant advancements in the self-driving ecosystem.