When Google unveiled its brand new self-driving car
prototype in May 2014 it looked like a shot at a new type of public transport system filled with pod-like autonomous cars. Now that utopian dream seems at an end. Waymo is killing off the specifically designed "Firefly" in favor of an adapted Chrysler van.
The Alphabet-owned self-driving company shifted focus when it was taken out of Google’s moonshot division, X. It moved away from building its own cars and towards creating the technology for others to build autonomous cars.
Taking the axe to the cute little Firefly bubble car is the next step in that change.
YooJung Ahn, lead industrial designer and Jaime Waydo, lead systems engineer for Waymo said in a blogpost: :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.”
Instead of operating bespoke self-driving cars, Waymo now uses commercial vehicles retro-fitted with self-driving technology. It’s a technique the company used when Google first unveiled its self-driving project with a modified Toyota Prius and then modified Lexus SUVs. It offers many advantages to the firms looking to develop the technology, allowing them to avoid the regulatory and safety headaches associated with producing cars, which are numerous and strenuous due to their potential to cause harm.
This time Waymo has partnered with Chrysler for its Pacifica minivan, which the company says will help bring self-driving technology more quickly and to more people.
The Waymo designers said: “The Pacifica minivans are equipped with our latest generation of custom-built radar, LiDAR and vision systems and an all-new AI compute platform, so they can see even further and sharper. They can also reach full speed (where the Firefly is limited to 25mph), and the interior is equipped with creature comforts that passengers expect in their vehicles today -- which makes our initial fleet of 600 self-driving minivans a perfect fit for our early rider program.”
While some organizations are researching autonomous technology for public transport, particularly those trialling systems in the UK, the majority of development has shifted towards commercial systems. Most automotive manufacturers are looking to effectively shoehorn self-driving systems into existing cars and market them to the public as having more advanced driving aids, with Tesla’s Autopilot system the most high-profile example.
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