Goodbye, Waymo Firefly, We Hardly Knew Ye

©. Google car test

AKA the Google Car, it is driving off to museums.

Once upon a time, self-driving cars seemed like they might be a solution to many of the problems in our cities. The vision was that would be shared, so that there wouldn’t be too many of them; they would be smaller, and they would be slower.

google car

© GoogleAnd they would be cuter. Back before Google became Alphabet and the car project became part of Waymo, they designed the Firefly, the lovable AV. It didn’t have a steering wheel or brake pedals, so the idiot humans in it couldn’t mess up. It was soft; even the windshield was plastic instead of glass so that it would be less deadly if the car did hit anyone. It was all electric, so it didn’t pollute, and it was light and tiny so that it didn’t take much power to keep it going.

As Mike Murphy writes in Quartz, “The cars evoked a friendlier world, where cars were not things to be feared, nor the harbingers of thousands of deaths across the world.”

google car on the road

© Google via Designboom

But alas, it was a world that was not to be. Instead, Waymo is now experimenting with big hybrid Chrysler Pacifica minivans. The engineers at Waymo explain:

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. The Pacifica minivans are equipped with our latest generation of custom-built radar, LiDAR and vision systems and an all-new AI compute platform, so they can see even further and sharper. They can also reach full speed (where the Firefly is limited to 25mph), and the interior is equipped with creature comforts that passengers expect in their vehicles today.
waymo cars

© Waymo

Now I cannot diss the Pacifica hybrid when our own Sami Grover drives one and raves about it, but instead of smaller and slower, we get bigger and faster with wetware driving along with the software. Instead of all-electric, we are getting hybrids. Instead of cute and friendly and soft little things, we are getting heavy metal.

slow cars offroad

Isetta/ Slow cars can go off road/via

For some time we have been writing in praise of the slow car. I was not alone; Alex Steffen wrote that The future of cars is slow. A decade ago I wrote:

Perhaps, like the slow food movement, we need a slow car movement, a radical lowering of the speed limit so that the private car can survive in an era of peak oil and global warming, simply by being smaller and slower. We don't need hydrogen cars and new technology; we just need better, smaller designs, lower speed limits and no big SUVs on the road to squish them.

I really thought that the Google car was a harbinger of this future. Alas, I was wrong. And alas, poor Firefly, we hardly knew ye.