Waymo Firefly, Waymo’s first Self-Driving Car to hit the roads was a technology testing prototype. Firefly was cute looking Bubble Car developed by Waymo as a part of developing its Self-Driving Technology. The part that firefly played in developing Wayo’s Self-Driving Technology was huge.
Firefly was a small dome-shaped vehicle with a seating capacity of two people with just one row of seating. Waymo developed this dome-shaped prototype in 2013. Firefly was involved in a lot of successful test drives both on test tracks as well as on the road.
Firefly had customized Sensors, Steering, Braking Functions, and Computers. One main point to note is that Waymo Firefly did not have any Steering Wheels or Pedals. It was a car designed exclusively for riding and not driving and was powered by Electric Batteries. It used RADAR, Sensors, Lasers, and Cameras for Autonomous Navigation. The dome-shaped structure was further helpful in letting the cameras and sensors have a wider view.
John Krafcik, Waymo CEO was seen as really excited and happy when he was asked about the ‘Bubble Car’. Sharing his views on the Firefly at SXSW 2018, he mentioned that the world’s first Self-Driving Car ride on public roads without any safety net (without steering wheels and brake pedals) with a blind person seated was achieved in 2015 at Austin successfully with the Firefly.
John recalls and shares on how he felt when the first ride actually took place. He mentioned that the entire team was then watching the ride from Mountain View, California. They were all very nervous and anxious. He compared the experience similar to landing man on the moon. Their happiness knew no bounds when the ride took place successfully and they had to actually keep silence on that until Google’s Self-Driving Technology became Waymo.
The passenger in the Waymo Firefly was Steve Mehen, Former CEO, Santa Clara Valley Blind Centre. He was quoted as saying “It is a profound experience for me to be alone in a car. A very important segment of life was cut away when my vision failed and Self-Driving Cars would give me a huge part of my life back”.
When the news of Firefly being retired by Waymo took roots, a lot of people had thoughts and questions as to why Waymo would retire a model that was successful in the conquering Self-Driving Technology as well as the hearts of a lot of people. The answer to why Waymo had to retire the Firefly was obvious. Firefly was just a prototype and had a lot of limitations. One major limitation is its maximum speed being restricted to 26 miles per hour. Also, Waymo Firefly was never created as a commercial purpose, but solely for testing and developing the Waymo’s Self-Driving Technology.
Hence when Waymo’s vision towards achieving Self-Driving Technology accelerated, it was time to gradually start the testing the technology in a more commercialized and practical setting using real-life cars that actually ran on the road. This was imperative since Waymo’s Self-Driving technology would eventually be applied to cars in the real world. Hence Waymo had to shift its further testing and development to Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Minivans.
Though Firefly was eventually replaced by much better real-world cars by Waymo for testing its autonomous technology, Firefly will always be remembered as one of the first fully independent Self-Driving Cars. Firefly will also be seen displayed in many of the Museums of the United States.
If you are interested in knowing more on Self-Driving Cars, you might find the following worth checking out –