Bye-bye, Firefly: Waymo retires its autonomous prototype vehicle

If you were holding out for one of those super-cute autonomous pods from Google’s early days of researching self-driving vehicles, I have bad news. The autonomous division of the company is now Waymo (that’s not the bad news), and it announced that it is retiring the little white vehicles, known as “Firefly” inside the company. That, for those of us who liked the little gumdrop on wheels, is the bad news.

In a blog post, Waymo lead industrial designer YooJung Ahn and lead systems engineer Jaime Waydo pointed out that the koala-faced car was never intended for mass production. It was designed in 2013 so that the team could learn how a car without a steering wheel or pedals would even work. That’s how Waymo figured out that the sensors could see more and process data more efficiently if they were all together in a dome on top of the roof. By 2015, Firefly could take a fully autonomous drive with a blind man inside and no human backup.

But the Firefly had some drawbacks, like a top speed of 25 mph. That’s great when you’re working out the very basics of autonomous driving, but it’s not enough for most real-world streets. There were only about 50 Fireflies in the fleet at best, and while they racked up millions of miles of test drives, that’s still not enough.

And so the Firefly will live out its life in museums around the world, including the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, and the Design Museum in London. A pretty cushy retirement for a robot.

Waymo will press on, of course, with a far bigger fleet in number and vehicle size. It’s using 600 Chrysler Pacifica minivans that can travel at normal speeds and have all the things people usually want in cars, like more than two seats, in its latest tests. If you live in the Phoenix, Arizona, metro area, you can join Waymo’s Early Rider Program to take these vehicles to the places you normally go, like work or school.