The Revs Institute specializes in automotive firsts. The prestigious Naples car museum is now showing another pioneering vehicle: the first driverless car.
Revs on Horseshoe Drive on Saturday began exhibiting the Waymo Firefly, the world’s first fully autonomous car to drive on public roads. The Firefly arrived at Revs from Waymo, a subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet. The car was donated by Waymo. Based along with Google in Mountain View, California, Waymo has pioneered driverless technology.
The jellybean-shaped Firefly, a two-seater electric-powered vehicle, Waymo retired from use by Waymo in 2016, is notable for what it does not have. There is no steering wheel, no brake pedal or accelerator, no driving controls at all. The few user-operated buttons control the windows, door locks, seats and interior lights, and once a destination is programmed in, allow the human occupant to hit “start trip,” “pull over” or “help.”
The Firefly, with a top speed of 25 mph, completed the first-ever autonomous trip on public roads in Austin, Texas, in October 2015. Waymo continues to push forward with driverless car technology, offering autonomous rides in towns around Phoenix, in a fleet of modified Chrysler Pacificas, and has thousands of Jaguar I-Pace electric minivans on order.
2017: Google’s Waymo CEO unveils self-driving Pacificas
The electronics that controlled the Firefly have been removed from the model on display (and superseded in Waymo’s newer self-driving cars), but the car was guided by a combination of radar, lidar, and camera sensors, housed in a dome atop the car with the look of a “gumball machine” on a classic police cruiser.
While the Firefly will be followed by other driverless vehicles that go faster and carry more occupants, its significance in automotive history cannot be overstated, said Revs chief operating officer Mark Vargas.
“This is the dawn of a new era,” he said. “This is the first car you’ve ever seen with no steering wheel or brakes,” the forefront of a revolution in technology that will change the way people get around.
“One-hundred and 25 years ago, we had a huge infrastructure built around horses. There were 100,000 horses in New York City,” Vargas continued. “If someone said back then there would be no horses, you would have said ‘you’re crazy.’”
More: Rare Lotus race car makes pit stop at Revs auto museum in Naples
The groundbreaking nature of the Firefly is the reason it belongs at Revs, said Miles Collier, founder of the Revs Institute for Automotive Research, grandson of Collier County’s namesake, and the man whose passion for car collecting led to the Institute’s creation.
“This collection is all about benchmark cars. After they came along, the world was changed. The technological difficulties of autonomous driving make this a very significant car,” said Collier.
“People are very nervous about machines taking over — think about the movie ‘2001.’ While 99.94% reliability is pretty good for a dishwasher or a toaster, it’s not good enough for a car. This is the beginning of the road.”
Collier pointed out, and Waymo representative Sandy Karp confirmed, that the Firefly was intentionally designed to be cute and inoffensive.
“We’re excited to partner with the Revs Institute to share the journey of self-driving technology with curious audiences of all ages, and inspire tomorrow’s mobility visionaries, engineers, and designers,” Yoo Jung Ahn, Waymo’s head of design and the Firefly’s principal designer, said in a prepared statement.
Adding the Waymo Firefly to the Revs permanent collection brings the museum into the 21st century, continuing its mission of showcasing the most significant automobiles in history. Cars at Revs include the 1896 Panhard & Levassor Wagonette, built before the term “automobile” was coined, when a “horseless carriage” that broke down would regularly have a horse — and they were readily available — attached to pull it. There is a Ford Model T, with kerosene headlamps, from the era before Henry Ford invented the assembly line to speed production.
More: Revs Institute: Naples engine car exhibit blows lid off history
All the great names of automotive history are represented at Revs: Rolls-Royce, Bugatti, Packard, Alfa Romeo, Pierce-Arrow, Duesenberg, Maserati, Cadillac, Chrysler, Hispano-Suiza, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Ferrari and others.
Then there’s other lesser-known manufacturers represented, such as Delahaye, Scarab, Delauney-Belleville and Trabant, that may not have instant name recognition but still played important roles in the development of the automobile.
And that’s why the cars are here. Far from being a random grouping of pretty vehicles, the collection at Revs represents a serious effort to assemble the most influential, important cars in history, “using the automobile to trace the trajectory of modernity.”
This focus has made Revs one of the foremost automotive museums in the world, ranked No. 1 or 2 in consecutive years by The Classic Car Trust.
More: Pair of ultra-rare Corvettes are on display at Naples’ Revs Institute
The Revs Institute is open to the public, but reservations are required, with hours and numbers of visitors limited, to allow visitors an uncrowded, leisurely look of the museum’s prized cars. Docent tours with knowledgeable car experts, giving the story behind the cars, are available for an extra fee.
Where: 2500 S Horseshoe Drive, Naples
When: Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tickets must be purchased in advance and can be reserved both online and via phone
Information: revsinstitute.org or 239-687-7387