Waymo Says Goodbye to Firefly Driverless Fleet

The two seater took on the company’s vision for fully driverless transportation, as the vessels did not have any pedals or steering wheels. It also didn’t have any airbags, according to Matt McFarland from CNN.

Michael Cheng
    Jun 21, 2017 8:58 AM  PT
Waymo Says Goodbye to Firefly Driverless Fleet
author: Michael Cheng   

Google's original Firefly autonomous cars that were used on test tracks and public roads will no longer be in use. The two seater took on the company's vision for fully driverless transportation, as the vessels did not have any pedals or steering wheels.

It also didn't have any airbags, according to Matt McFarland from CNN.

They could only travel 25 miles per hour, which doesn't exactly reflect the true nature of other cars on the road today, traveling up to three to four times faster than its top speed. According to Waymo lead industrial designer YooJung Ahn and lead systems engineer Jaime Waydo, the Firefly was never designed to be commercialized or mass produced. Instead, it was specifically created to serve as an experimental platform.

"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," explained Ahn and Waydo in a blog post.

Humble Beginnings

The creation of the Firefly helped Google engineers address several issues with the hardware configuration of self-driving cars. At the time, the cars were manufactured completely from scratch, since no one else was working on autonomous driving platforms. Developers had to incorporate sensors, cameras and processing units – components that aren't commonly found in mainstream vehicles (during that period). Moreover, the team had to strip down the controls inside the car for a true, SAE-L5 autonomous experience.

Google's first driverless vehicle helped the company hit numerous milestones. In 2015, it facilitated the first driverless ride with a blind man. This was very symbolic for the business, as one of its main focus for the commercialization of autonomous technology is mobility services.

In another milestone, the Firefly was pulled over by a cop in Mountain View for driving at very slow speeds, way below the speed limit of the residential location. The police didn't issue a ticket for the incident and let the vehicle go with a warning.

Heading to the Museum

The Firefly is too precious to be sent away to the junkyard. Google plans to retire the vehicle in museums around the world, specifically in Austin, Mountain View and the Design Museum in London. Developers are also planning road trips between Phoenix and Austin before sending off the car for public viewing.

Waymo is moving away from the compact, bubble design and will be utilizing Fiat Chrysler Pacifica minivans for its autonomous trials. The group completed a deal with the automaker for an order of 500 units, which will grow its current fleet to 600 vessels. The autonomous vans will be at the core of Waymo's early rider programs. Unlike the Firefly fleet, the driverless vans are expected to carry mainstream passengers.

"The Pacifica minivans are equipped with our latest generation of custom-built radar, lidar and visions systems and an all-new AI compute platform, so they can see even further and sharper," wrote Ahn and Waydo.