FREMONT, Calif., Aug. 23 (Reuters) – Self-driving startups like Cruise and Pony.AI have begun testing their driverless cars in parts of California over the past year, with an added feature: human operators.
While there is no driver behind the wheel, the passenger seat is occupied by a safety operator who has a “red button that can stop the vehicle if anything happens,” Pony.ai CEO James Peng told Reuters. .
The operator will be delisted next year when Pony.ai, whose investors include Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T), plans to deploy its driverless ride-hailing vehicles in some areas of California. Still, a remote operator will monitor the vehicles and provide guidance when vehicles are in distress, Peng said.
Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL.O) puts personnel wearing fluorescent yellow vests to provide roadside assistance for its automated minivan in Phoenix, according to Waymo, video, and one of its enthusiastic riders, Joel Johnson, who spotted it Is.
Cruise, a General Motors Company (GM.N) majority-owned company, began operating five driverless vehicles with a human in the front seat in San Francisco on the night of October 2020. A Cruise spokesperson said “the ability to stop the vehicle at any point during the ride” is in mind.
“Cruise views the development of self-driving vehicles as not only a technical race, but also a trust race,” the spokesperson said. “Given this, we keep humans in the loop in testing driverless vehicles, not only as a means of safe development, but to build trust with the public.”
South Korean automotive giant Hyundai Motor Group has invested in remote operations startup Otopia, which will provide remote assistance for the Robotaxi fleet by Motion by Hyundai’s self-driving car joint venture, Motion.
Tesla to drivers: ‘Be ready for action’
The continued human presence in software-driven, automated vehicles underscores the challenges facing the automated vehicle industry, which has consumed billions of dollars in investor capital over the past decade.
Given the technical and regulatory barriers to free-range, driverless robotaxis, some self-driving companies are acknowledging the need for human brains and reducing their ambitions to generate revenue in the near future, according to interviews. be able to start With investors and startup executives.
Even Tesla Inc. (TSLA.O), which recently launched a new trial version of “full self-driving” software, said in a message to owners that drivers should “take action immediately”. especially around blind corners, crossing intersections, and in narrow driving conditions.” US safety regulators have begun a formal investigation into the automaker’s Autopilot driver assistance system after a series of fatal accidents. Read more
WAYMO’s Road Aid
Waymo has been developing self-driving technology for more than a decade, and in 2018 launched the first commercial robotaxis in Phoenix. But the heyday of the pioneering Google self-driving car project still keeps humans in the loop.
Waymo told Reuters that it runs four teams to monitor and support the fleet. Duties range from answering riders’ questions remotely in difficult situations such as road closures, to providing a “second pair”. One of its teams provides roadside support to respond to collisions and other incidents.
“The teams work together to streamline the operation of our fully autonomous fleet throughout the day,” Nathaniel Fairfield, a Waymo software engineer, said in a statement to Reuters.
Waymo does not operate vehicles by remote control, he said.
“We don’t use remote takeover, or ‘joysticking,’ because we don’t think remote humans really add security,” he said, citing potential wireless connection problems.
Waymo has initially applied for a permit to begin commercial autonomous vehicle operations in San Francisco with safety drivers. The company relies on an army of vehicle operators to speed up testing in dense and complex city environments. read more
A former Waymo operator who took part in the San Francisco trial this year said they had to “disengage” and intervene about 30 times a day, in which the car failed to stop at a red light or accelerate in front of vehicles that suddenly slowed down. or closed.
“You’re on your toes… At times (you think) ‘Oh, I didn’t predict this behavior at all.’ “This behavior doesn’t usually happen,” said the veteran security operator, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to privacy concerns.
Waymo publicly reported 21 disruptions while driving 628,838.5 miles (1.01 million km) in 2020.
dirty little secret
Regulators are also linking humans to automated vehicles. California’s Department of Motor Vehicles said in a statement to Reuters that “California laws” call for a two-way communication link that allows the manufacturer to continuously monitor the location/position of the (driverless) vehicle.
Other robotic taxi companies are using remote operation to get vehicles on the road.
In Las Vegas, startup Halo allows customers to call a driverless car, powered by a remote human operator, over a fast, fifth-generation wireless network operated by T-Mobile US Inc. (TMUS.o).
“A few years ago, remote human assistance in this space was a dirty little secret,” said Elliot Katz, co-founder of teleoperation firm Phantom Auto. “Virtually nobody talked about it publicly because there was still the mask that these vehicles were going to be able to drive autonomously, everywhere they needed to go and do everything that a human driver would. will do.”
He added: “Now everyone knows that’s not going to happen.”
Reporting by Hyunju Jin in Fremont, California, and Editing by Nathan Frandino in San Francisco, Joe White and Matthew Lewis
Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.