Waymo Outgrows the "Firefly" Self-Driving Car, Retires It to Museums

Waymo's Firefly next to the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid 5 photos
Photo: Waymo
Firefly origami sketchFirefly and Pacifica face-offFirefly productionThe Firefly
For the last four years, the roads have been graced by the presence of the friendliest-looking vehicle ever: the Google bubble car, known inside the company as the "Firefly."
The ridiculously cute design spawned other names as well for the autonomous vehicle, the best of which, probably - and most accurate - being the "Koala car." With a silent electric propulsion system, a top speed of 25 mph (40 km/h) and a bodywork so rounded, you could mistake it for a soccer ball, the "Firefly" was the least menacing vehicle you could encounter on the roads.

Except Google's self-built self-driving car wasn't that easy to find. Not that many were built, and because of their limitations, they only drove through quiet suburbs and private roads. However, that didn't keep them from setting world premiers as well, such as Steve Mahan's cruise through an Austin neighborhood with no controls or human backup - the world's first truly autonomous trip.

The bubble car has become the symbol of Google's (now Waymo) autonomous ambitions, even though most of the real work was done by converted Lexus RX450h SUVs, with only a small number of miles coming from the electric vehicles.

Now, though, together with FIAT Chrysler Automobiles, Waymo has created a huge fleet of 600 autonomous Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans, which are equipped with the company's latest self-driving hardware and software and are ready to push the pursuit for complete autonomy into the next phase.

Using mass-produced vehicles gives Waymo a better understanding of how its technology can be implemented in other cars once it goes for sale, plus it allows the test vehicles to reach real-world speeds, as opposed to the Fireflies, which were limited at 25 mph.

Given their importance to the development of the program - and how loved they are both inside the company and out - the Fireflies will not be scrapped. Instead, they will take part in a few events later this year - such as the celebration of Steve Mahan's trip - while two of them will find a permanent home at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, and another one at the Design Museum in London, UK.
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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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