The End of Project Firefly

I’ve had a good time documenting Google’s adorable little self driving pod car. Just having read that Waymo’s prototype was being retired I was reminded of chasing those cars all over parking lots and streets of Silicon Valley from nearly the beginning of the project.

Google Self Driving Car, Mountain View, Silicon Valley

It’s fun to see the progression over the years. The stubby LIDAR in the beginning, then the clear plastic dome, and later a black dome.

Mountain View, Silicon Valley, California, USA - 15 October 2014: Google Self Driving Car Prototype being Driven in Silicon Valley Parking Lot.

In the beginning when I first found the car being (illegally?) tested in a public City of Mountain View parking lot I got some grief from the testers for photographing their vehicle.

Google Self Driving Car, Mountain View, Silicon Valley

Later, as Google moved on to a new building and the prototypes became ubiquitous I could just sit on a park bench near their “garage” and wait for my subjects to come to me.

Autonomous car being tested in Silicon Valley parking lot

While the Chrysler self driving minivans may be more practical, frankly their aesthetically boring! The “pod car” design by YooJung Ahn really stood out as futuristic. 

Self Driving Car

I wasn’t too keen on the “artwork” that was placed on the doors a few years back aesthetically speaking.

Self Driving Car

Self Driving Car

But the most recent “Firefly” with the Waymo logo on it and the lit teal bar on the door struck me as pretty cool.

Around the Googleplex

I’ll miss you firefly!

 

In Search of the Self Driving Minivan

Google Self Driving Car (M. Halberstadt / SiliconValleyStock.com)
Google Self Driving Car (M. Halberstadt / SiliconValleyStock.com)

Just to clear things up first, no you will not see any photos on this post of the new rumored Chrysler-Fiat Pacifica Self Driving minivan. It is in the works as I understand it, and have seen some photos online in a Google parking garage. But eventually, they will have to take this thing out for testing, and I’ll be there ASAP snapping away.

Google Self Driving Car (M. Halberstadt / SiliconValleyStock.com)
Google Self Driving Car (M. Halberstadt / SiliconValleyStock.com)

However, I did get to sit on a bench on a pleasant fall day and snap some nice photos of other Google autonomous cars passing by. I felt kinda like a fisherman might feel fishing out of a stocked pond.

Google Self Driving Car (M. Halberstadt / SiliconValleyStock.com)
Google Self Driving Car (M. Halberstadt / SiliconValleyStock.com)

At one point (while I was on the phone to my friend and fellow photographer Christian 1*) I heard the electric car whirring sound on my left. I excused myself from the phone call, stood up and saw two of those cute 2 seat prototype autonomous cars on my left, then looked to the right and saw another one! It was like I was being surrounded.

Google Self Driving Car (M. Halberstadt / SiliconValleyStock.com)
Google Self Driving Car (M. Halberstadt / SiliconValleyStock.com)

Unfortunately for my stock photo luck, there was another interesting scene – that could have been an even better contrast had there been a self driving car there as well. A homeless guy (?) came riding down the slight hill next to the Google X building carrying a bunch of huge bags full of recycling.

I’ll head down soon and see if I can find this rumored vehicle in the wild.

The Answer is Blowin’ in the Wind: Makani

I was headed out the door of my place in West Alameda planning to head off and photograph a nearby building. But I heard a mysterious humming sound, a sound I’d struggled to figure out what it was for some time in the past.

Makani Energy Kite

Heading over to Rockwall one day not long ago the mystery was revealed. Right across from the USS Hornet Museum I stumbled upon a small plane or large prop driven drone looking device.

Makani Energy Kite

Some research later and I found that that “drone” was actually a Google X project (or Alphabet, or the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, or whatever they are calling themselves now-a-days.)

Makani Energy Kite

Google bought this oddball alternative energy company in Alameda called Makani. Their project is what they dub an “energy kite” and it looks alot like a prop plane and blows around in windy areas and generates energy. Or that’s how I understand it.

Makani Energy Kite

But once again I wanted to get a little stock photography and video of the thing actually running. Unfortunately it seemed they were winding down as I got there, but it was a different looking “kite” this time.

Full Airspace over the Googleplex

Google Mountain View, Silicon Valley (Editorial Use Only)
Google Mountain View, Silicon Valley (Editorial Use Only)

Full Airspace over the Googleplex

On a recent trip to Google’s sprawling campus in Mountain View I had an odd encounter. Unfortunately I wasn’t well situated to document what I saw. As I was trying to get my own aerial view a crew of three showed up right next to me and plopped a drone on the ground.

For safety reasons I retracted my rig and moved over. One fellow donning a hard hat had a tether that was attached to said drone. The got it started and walked into the Quad area. I’m assuming they are Google X people, I can’t imagine that security would have let a setup like that in the belly of the beast if they weren’t at least Googlers. And in my handful of photos, I could zoom in and see a badge tucked into one of the fellows pockets.

Are they competing with Amazon? Just doing this for pure research? Fun? I don’t know.

All I do know is they got at least twice as high up as I did!