World-first trial puts remote-controlled passenger cars on UK roads
StreetDrone has demonstrated a modified Nissan van that can pass control between a human driver, an autonomous system, and a remote-control tele-operator
Once the steering wheel is taken out of cars altogether, there will still need to be a way to deal with weird "edge case" situations that an autonomous AI can't figure out. That may require human drivers to stay on standby, ready to take the wheel by remote control until the self-driving system is comfortable enough to continue.
A UK Government-funded project has just demonstrated such a system for the first time, with vehicles on public roads in Oxford and London switching control between a driver, an autonomous system and a remote teleoperator over a cyber-secure connection.
“The success of this trial conducted not in a controlled environment but out on the public highway, is blending autonomous technologies with teleoperation to prove an advanced level of technology readiness that can now deliver much-needed efficiencies into the supply chain," said Mike Potts, CEO of StreetDrone, which provided and managed the autonomous and remote control systems. "Where tasks are too complex for autonomous technologies, teleoperations steps in. This integration provides a ‘ready-now’ solution and it has been a sight to behold to see it in operation.”
The tele-operator sees live vision through cameras on the car, and drives it using a racing game-like setup
The remote drivers' workstations look a lot like racing game setups, featuring three widescreen monitors, a steering wheel and pedal setup. Evidently connectivity in the UK is fast and reliable enough that these demonstrations didn't suffer from show-stopping lag or dropouts, which is almost as impressive as the teleoperation system itself.
Such remote control systems have been widely talked about with respect to fully autonomous eVTOL aircraft, but we hadn't heard the idea raised when it comes to self-driving cars. That's mainly because the steering wheel will remain part of the car for a long time yet, and human drivers will be able to take over when required. But anything that hits the road without a steering wheel on board will need a last-resort fallback option, no matter how advanced the autonomous system gets. And remote control could well be the answer.