Fully driverless cars are on public roads in Texas

Drive.ai, a California-based autodidact startup, operates fully driverless vehicles without safety drivers on the public roads of Frisco, a suburb outside Dallas-Forth Worth, the company announced this week. The tests are in the run-up to the company's planned autonomous travel service, which is scheduled to be launched later this summer. It is an important milestone for the incipient start-up, which can now claim the distinction of being the second company to experiment with driverless vehicles on public roads in the US. UU

In a video provided by Drive.ai, the company's Nissan NV200 is seen crossing six lanes of traffic, passing cyclists and pedestrians, entering a roundabout and even navigating through the low-angle sunlight that Normally it darkens an autonomous vehicle sensors. A smaller screen shows the vehicle's perception system that identifies objects such as cars, pedestrians and cyclists.

"We are excited to bring our autonomous driving technology to Texas and look forward to sharing more details with you as we get closer to launch!" The company said in a medium-sized publication.

But Drive.ai does not plan to offer rides to any member of the public in their fully driverless vehicles, at least not initially. In an email, a spokesperson provided more details about the tests:

All this is done on public roads in Frisco, and is part of the route for the public pilot launch in July. While there is no one in the driver's seat in this video, we had one of our trained safety controllers in the passenger seat (it is necessary to act as a "companion" with the ability to take control manually from that position). We also made one of our tele-election operators monitor the operation of the vehicle, being able to intervene if the vehicle was not 100% sure of what to do. So, although we filmed with no one in the driver's seat here, this video was unique, and not the way we normally operate vehicles. We will have security controllers for our operations as the vehicles drive in Frisco to collect data between now and the launch of the program in July.

… The plan at this time is to start with the security controllers when the program is released publicly. Then, we will move the safety driver to the passenger seat in the role of "companion". Eventually, we will eliminate the chaperone so that there are no employees of Drive.ai in the vehicles (only the tele-election operator monitors remotely). The timeline, which depends on the technology itself and the support of the community, is for all this to happen in the course of the 6-month pilot. That would mean without a driver by the end of 2018, if everything goes according to plan!

The fact that Drive.ai has remote operators ready to take control of the vehicle in case of an emergency is interesting. Teleoperation has not yet become popular with most of the main operators of autonomous vehicles, highlighting some new companies, such as Phantom Auto. Waymo, the only company that deployed fully driverless vehicles on public roads, has an OnStar button on its Chrysler Pacifica minivans without a driver in case passengers need roadside assistance, but so far has avoided a teleoperation option.

Drive.ai tests at Frisco occur at a time when vehicles that drive themselves on public roads have been involved in serious accidents. Last month, a Waymo truck was hit by a vehicle in Chandler, Arizona, and in March, the problems of Uber's self-driving program were uncovered after one of its vehicles hit and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona.