Waymo retires its cute self-driving car in favor of minivans

Waymo is done driving around the cute, steering-wheel-free autonomous cars that were introduced by Google back in 2014. In a blog post this afternoon, Waymo leaders write that time has come to “retire our fleet of Fireflies” — their name for the tiny cars — and focus instead of integrating self-driving technology into other vehicles, like the Chrysler Pacifica minivans Waymo put on the road earlier this year.

“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 Waymo leaders write. They also say that focusing on mass-produced vehicles opens up more opportunities for testing, since the Fireflies were limited to a top speed of 25 miles per hour.

The move shows Google pretty definitely moving away from producing its own vehicles and competing with automakers to instead focusing on collaborating with and selling technology to any automakers that are interested. While Google will be competing with quite a few other companies at this point to sell self-driving tech, it has a head start on testing; and ultimately, selling the technology is going to be a lot easier than figuring out how to mass produce and market its own self-driving cars.

Still, there’s something disappointing about seeing Waymo’s first self-driving car — and its bold vision for the future of vehicles — disappear in favor of a traditional vehicle. Google imagined a world without steering wheels, shifters, or a brake pedal, where the inside of a car was designed just for sitting. We may well get back to that point some day. But for now, don’t expect your first self-driving car to have a smiley face on it.

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