Google spinoff Waymo retires ‘bubble cars’ to focus on mass production

Google’s iconic “bubble cars” are going bye-bye.

Many in Silicon Valley have grown accustomed to seeing the little rounded vehicles poking around the streets, top speed 25 miles per hour, looking like they drove straight out of a Pac-Man video game.

For Google, which spun off the self-driving unit into its own company Waymo, these “Firefly” cars have been a key component in the development of autonomous vehicles. They hit public roads in 2015.

“From the beginning, Firefly was intended as a platform to experiment and learn, not for mass production,” Waymo said in a Medium post.

“By designing and building a truly self-driving vehicle from scratch, we were able to crack some of the earliest self-driving puzzles  — where to place the sensors, how to integrate the computer, what controls passengers need in a car that drives itself.

“In answering these questions, Firefly defined some of our most recognizable features, like the dome on top of every Waymo car.”

But now the little cars are going into retirement while Waymo focuses on mass-produced vehicles such as its fleet of 600 autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans.

“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,” Waymo said.

The minivans have latest-generation sensors and an “all-new” artificial-intelligence computing platform “so they can see even further and sharper,” according to Waymo.

“They can also reach full speed … and the interior is equipped with creature comforts that passengers expect in their vehicles today.”


Photo: Waymo’s Firefly self-driving car (courtesy of Waymo)


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