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June 13, 2017

Waymo killed its adorable self-driving cars to focus on minivans

by John_A

You know those cute Waymo cars – the ones that are the size of golf carts? Well, don’t expect to see them on the road again.

Waymo is a self-driving car company that began at Google but was recently spun off by Google’s parent company, Alphabet. The unit works on software and sensors originally developed in Google’s secret labs, but since 2015, it’s been testing fully autonomous car technology in a tiny prototype vehicle known as Firefly. Waymo even completed the “world’s first truly self-driving trip” in a Firefly just two years ago.

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But now Waymo is done driving around that version of its self-driving car. In a blog post on 12 June, Waymo said its fleet of Fireflies has been retired. Going forward, it will focus on integrating its latest technology into vehicles like the new self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan:

“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. 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.”

So, what does this mean?

For starters, Google’s Waymo has come a long way. It’s also obviously not interested in manufacturing self-driving cars, but rather partnering with other automakers so that third-party cars can be quipped to showcase and use Waymo’s autonomous car technology. The end goal, presumably, is to sell that technology to any automakers that are interested. But that’s just speculation for now.

Although you will no longer see Fireflies out and about, Waymo said you can see a couple Fireflies on display at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA and the Design Museum in London.

Waymo

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