A German Startup Has a Different Approach to Self-Driving Cars
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While automakers have been talking about the prospect of self-driving cars for what feels like forever, the actual rollout process is taking much longer than anyone expected.
Many consumers are anxious about the safety of self-driving cars and don’t trust the car’s software to navigate all driving situations. Many consumers fear that if we handed over full driving autonomy to a machine, there would be a major spike in collisions and injuries.
But what if there were a way to witness a future of self-driving cars without wholly giving up on human autonomy? Berlin-based startup Vay has come up with a possible compromise. Vay is piloting a project in which "teledrivers" can remotely control automated cars—an elegant solution that balances human control with driverless technology.
What exactly is a "teledriver," and how does it resemble self-driving car tech?
In Vay’s conception of self-driving cars, cars will be controlled by teledrivers, humans who operate the car remotely. Teledrivers can steer the car from a remote operating station, in which disconnected car parts, such as a steering wheel, pedals, and monitors, are connected to the real-life car. This way, the teledriver can serve as a real-time driver when needed.
Teledriving technology was designed to enhance safety, with added precautions to protect against speeding, distraction, fatigue, and driving while using substances. Vay sidesteps these issues by ensuring that their teledrivers go through a thorough vetting and training process.
Teledrivers are required to be fully engaged in the driving process—meaning that their phone is out of reach at all times, and substance use is prohibited.
So, how exactly does this self-driving car service work?
Vay’s service works much like a ride-sharing app, such as Uber: the customer hails a car, which will show up without a driver—or so it seems. The vehicle will be remotely controlled by an unseen teledriver throughout the entirety of your ride.
The advantage of this service is that customers don’t need to interact with drivers (a benefit for those worried about awkward or even unsafe interactions) and that you know your driver is driving responsibly. Not to mention, Vay has announced that its services will only cost "a fraction" of what other ride-sharing apps charge, according to Singularity Hub.
The company is not in any hurry to reach full automation, however. For Vay, this slow pace is crucial to building a healthy relationship between humans and machines. According to Singularity Hub, the company has announced that it intends to "enter a decade of human-machine collaboration instead of directly reaching full autonomy."
According to Car and Driver, this kind of semi-automation is called "human in the loop" (HIL) automation by those in the industry. The benefit of this approach is that while self-driving cars can usually navigate autonomous driving safely, when a tricky situation does arise, a remote driver (or teledriver) can intervene.
Many of the top dogs at Vay are automation veterans, according to Car and Driver. The company’s CEO, Thomas von der Ohe, previously worked on Amazon’s Alexa and at the self-driving startup Zoox, and its co-founders worked at Skype. So far Vay has accrued $30 million in investor capital.
Why is this self-driving service not available yet?
Vay still has several roadblocks to tackle before it can launch its new teledriving service.
Singularity Hub points out that, for instance, the company will need to figure out how to handle spiking demand at peak times, considering that there is only a set number of teledrivers at any given moment. Moreover, before its launch, the company will need to be approved by various municipal regulators—as well as win over consumers.
Don’t fear however: Vay is on track to provide teledriving tech to consumers soon and is currently testing its product in Berlin. The service is currently set to launch sometime in 2022 and will be available in select locations across Europe and the U.S.