Waymo waves off original Google Firefly driverless car

Replacing soon-to-be 'museum exhibit' with fleet of robo delivery vans

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Waymo, the one-time driverless car division of Google, has ditched its original self-driving car, the Firefly, in favour of a fleet of hundreds of robot vans.

The little autonomous vehicle, which was a regular feature of stock image libraries the world over, has finally been binned by the standalone Waymo firm, a subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet.

"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 in a statement.

The Firefly was a success, as far as R&D and practical demonstration goes. Waymo said that in 2016 it had driven Fireflies 50 per cent further than in the previous year and managed to halve the number of "disengagements", which is where the driver switches off the self-driving tech and takes control themselves.

This is not to say that Waymo's journey (har har) has been entirely plain sailing. Last year we learned that the Firefly struggled with four-way junctions and traffic lights, and other things such as, er, the outside temperature, sunlight and that well-known kryptonite, the hipster cyclist.

Examples of the Firefly will be distributed to museums across the world, including London's Design Museum. As for the wider context, it could be inferred that Google Waymo is giving up on the dream of crushing car manufacturers and instead wants to try and get a slice of the existing, and growing, connected car market.

A fleet of self-driving minivans has obvious commercial potential for deliveries, and as a tech demonstrator it could easily lead to consumer-focused offerings. ®


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