GOOGLE'S SELF-DRIVING car division Waymo is parting company with its iconic prototype bubble cars.
The "Fireflies" have become a familiar sight around Silicon Valley as the company has progressed further into the world of autonomous vehicles.
But now the company is moving to a fleet of 600 Chrysler Pacifica minivans, capable of proper road speeds (the Fireflies had a limit of 25mph).
The company said in a statement: "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."
It also added that the new vehicles would have more of the "creature comforts" expected in a modern vehicle.
In tribute, the firm said: "From the beginning, Firefly was intended as a platform to experiment and learn, not for mass production. By designing and building a truly self-driving vehicle from scratch, we were able to crack some of the earliest self-driving puzzles — where to place the sensors, how to integrate the computer, what controls passengers need in a car that drives itself.
"In answering these questions, Firefly defined some of our most recognisable features, like the dome on top of every Waymo car (by putting the LiDAR and cameras in a central spot, our sensors can see further and our computer can process data more efficiently)."
The Firefly is doubtless an important part of computer and automotive history, and retires with a near perfect safety record (well, it had a few prangs, but mostly at the hands of the other driver).
To that end, it will become a museum piece, appearing over the summer at the Arizona Science Centre in Phoenix, Arizona. In October it moves to The Thinkery in Austin, Texas to mark the second anniversary of the first completely autonomous drive, by Steve Mahan, who is legally blind.
There's a couple at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California and there's even one at The Design Museum right here in London Village, Blighty.
The arrival of Waymo on these shores has been discussed with the UK government, but as yet there's been no sign, though other self-drive projects abound in areas such as Royal Greenwich. µ
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