Waymo drops self-driving car Firefly for new autonomous minivan

The pod-shaped car, which first did a test-run in 2015, will now be retired to museums and replaced with a minivan that has better vision and can reach higher speed.

Waymo Firefly and Waymo Chrysler Pacifica minivan

Update 8 November 2017: Waymo is now test-driving its fleet of self-driving vehicles on public roads without a driver at the wheel at all. The test drive service will be taking place in Phoenix, Arizona and initially, priority will be give to members of the public who signed up to Waymo’s early rider program. The company intends for the service to be used by people for everything from commuting to work to getting home from a night out.

Waymo has ditched its self-driving car Firefly for a new autonomous minivan, which is the result of a collaboration with US manufacturer Chrysler.

Small, three-doored, pod-shaped vehicle Firefly was first conceptualised as a prototype in 2013. It had two seats, no steering wheels or pedals, and a computer under the bonnet to control driving.

“Firefly was a platform to experiment and learn”

It completed the world’s first real-life, self-driven trip in 2015, transporting a passenger through a neighbourhood in Austin, US without human control.

Waymo has confirmed it will now “retire its fleet of Fireflies” and focus on developing its new autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivan.

“From the beginning, Firefly was intended as a platform to experiment and learn – not for mass production,” says the company.

It adds that the prototype car enabled the company to “crack self-driving puzzles”, such as where to place sensors, how to integrate a computer and what kind of controls passengers need.

Minivan can reach higher speeds and has better vision

The new minivan can reach high speeds, while the Firefly was limited to 25mph. It also includes more sophisticated technology, with new radar and vision systems and artificial intelligence-programmed computers, enabling the car to “see even further and sharper”.

The Firefly will be retired to museums worldwide. A prototype will first head to the US, moving to the Arizona Science Center in August then The Thinkery in Austin in October. Other prototypes will also be on display at the Computer History Museum in California and the Design Museum in London.

Self-driving car company Waymo sits alongside Google under parent company Alphabet. The Waymo brand was revealed in December last year, establishing it as a separate entity from Google, which started the self-driving car project.

Early 2013 prototype of Waymo Firefly
Interiors of Waymo Firefly
Waymo Firefly completing its first full run on public streets in 2015
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