Waymo has made a post on Medium officially announcing the retirement of its cute, podlike self-driving "Firefly" prototype cars. The point of the vehicles was never mass production, according to the post; rather, the Firefly units were meant to help Waymo to get over many of the more subtle humps of self-driving development right from the start by having them design self-driving hardware from the ground up. According to the post, Waymo will be applying what it's learned from building the Firefly units in working with Chrysler to mass produce self-driving Pacifica minivans, building on a partnership that was minted last year.
The design started out as a simple piece of paper art, as seen in this article's featured image. It evolved over time to accommodate the changing technology that eventually became Waymo's current implementation, and formed into the Smartcar-esque pod seen today. That pod may now be in the process of being supplanted by the Pacifica units, but it did manage to deliver Waymo's first iconic ride on public roads, granted to Steve Mahan, an unassuming non-Googler who just happened to be legally blind. The ride took place in October of 2015, and its second anniversary will see a Firefly unit heading to Austin, Texas, where the ride took place, to be displayed at The Thinkery. The Arizona Science Center in Phoenix will be visited by a Firefly in August. A few units will take up permanent residence at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, and the Design Museum in London.
The Pacifica units that will be taking up the Firefly's mantle will have a few perks besides being mass-produced and potentially being the first commercial self-driving vehicles. They will also have Waymo's latest tech on board, integrated top to bottom, and will be able to reach full highway speeds, compared to the 25 mile per hour limit imposed on the Firefly units. The interior will also be outfitted with most of the same accouterments and comforts that the stock Pacifica has. The plan is to build 600 of them in an initial run, and use them for a public "early rider" program, an open beta of sorts that those interested can apply to through the source link, so long as they happen to be in the Phoenix area. Specifically, Waymo is looking for riders in Chandler, Tempe, Mesa, and Gilbert for now.