Self-driving cars are still in their testing phase and have only started to appear in cities like Tempe, Arizona, San Francisco, and California, as companies like Tesla, Google and Uber start to make the final preparations to release their autonomous automobiles into the wild.
Texas is the most recent state to welcome these self-driving cars onto their roads — at least in a trial run. Let’s take a closer look at a new name in the autonomous car industry and what they’re hoping to achieve in Frisco, Texas.
When you think of self-driving cars, companies like Tesla and Uber probably tend to come to mind, but they’re not the only competitors in the game anymore. Drive.ai is a new self-driving car startup out of California that has just started their first tests on public roads in the small town of Frisco, Texas — a suburb outside of Dallas-Fort Worth.
The company utilizes a Nissan NV200 — a compact cargo van — that is equipped with self-driving technology and sensors.
The demo video that was released by Drive.ai showcases the car easily crossing multiple lanes of traffic — legally, of course — as well as avoiding pedestrians, cyclists, and other obstacles.
The company’s plan right now is to start testing their vehicles on Frisco’s roads in July with a safety driver behind the wheel. After that, the safety driver will be moved to the passenger seat, then removed entirely before the company will launch its autonomous ride-hailing service using these cars.
One thing that sets Drive.ai apart from other autonomous car manufacturers is their use of tele-choice operations. Whether there is a passenger in the car or not, there is always a tele-choice operator monitoring the car. This technological revolution allows operators to take control of the car remotely in case of emergency.
No other company has implemented this kind of remote control. The closest similar set-up is Waymo, Google’s driverless car project, which uses a service similar to OnStar that offers roadside assistance but doesn’t allow the operators to take remote control of the vehicle.
This type of remote operation could help to prevent self-driving car accidents like the one involving a self-driving Uber that took the life of a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. This type of control is the first of its kind in the industry, and if it works, it could change the way that autonomous car manufacturers program their cars to ensure both passenger and pedestrian safety.
The Future of Self-Driving Cars
If all goes according to plan, Drive.ai hopes to have their autonomous ride-hailing service on the road — sans safety drivers — by the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019. Only time will tell how these initial road tests go, but hopefully, they are more successful than Uber’s Arizona tests. If the demo video is any indication, the company is trying to set themselves up to get it right the first time.
If these tests are successful, it may entice other self-driving car manufactures to look into implementing similar remote-control facilities. Even if they’re not going to monitor every privately-owned self-driving car on the road continually, they can control the vehicles that will likely be used for their ride-sharing programs.
It is still up to car manufacturers to create and program a self-driving car that can function on any road and in any conditions — and we’re not quite there yet. As it stands though, Drive.ai might have the best business model of any that have been introduced thus far. We’re waiting to see the first results of the company’s Frisco tests, which won’t start rolling in until the third or fourth quarter of 2018.