Waymo retires Firefly test cars, focuses on Pacificas

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Waymo, a leader in the push for driverless vehicles, is moving away from its small first-generation test vehicle in favor of a focus on equipping its fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans.

The small two-seat egg-shaped car known as the Firefly served as Waymo’s intro into the autonomous vehicle arena. It is now being put out to pasture. Known as the “pod” car, it gained notoriety for the company – an offshoot of Google – for its central role in several key test projects.

Most notable among those was a drive in Austin, Texas, which took a legally blind passenger on what the company described as “the world’s first truly self-driving trip.”

In a blog post Monday, Waymo’s Lead Industrial Designer YooJung Ahn and Lead Systems Engineer Jamie Waydo described the Firefly as a “platform to experiment and learn.”

“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,” the post reads.

In April, Fiat Chrysler LLC announced a deal to provide 500 hybrid Pacifica minivans to Waymo for driverless testing. That brought the total number of Pacificas in the Waymo program to 600.

“By focusing on mass-produced vehicles like the Pacifica minivan, we’ll be able to bring fully self-driving technology to more people, more quickly,” Ahn and Waydo wrote. “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.

“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.”


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