If we've learned anything from Silicon Valley, it's to over-promise and under-deliver. And if we've learned anything else from Silicon Valley, it's that replacing humans with artificial intelligence is not nearly as easy as it sounds. Put these two tendencies together, and you get an awful lot of humans performing grunt work that tech companies previously wanted to automate away only to find they couldn't write algorithms that performed as well as any human could. The first examples that immediately jump to mind are content moderation on the major social networks, transcribing recordings from smart speakers, and Elon Musk's attempt to automate the Tesla assembly line only to admit "humans are underrated." Don't look now, but self-driving cars are a prime candidate to be the latest major "automation" technology that is performed not by a computer, but by a human you can't see.
Texas A&M University is modifying its self-driving pilot program in the city of Bryan, Texas, to have humans remotely monitor and operate the shuttles starting in September, making it one of the first commercial deployments of teleoperation technology in the country. The teleoperation technology is being provided by a Portland, Oregon-based startup called Designated Driver. It will allow humans at Texas A&M to remotely control the shuttles in situations where the self-driving system may not be up to snuff, and they'll also be able to interact with passengers on board. The new functionality could help solve a problem that similarly nascent autonomous shuttle programs have run into: crashes. The low-speed autonomous shuttles currently whispering their way around a handful of downtown areas and campuses across the country are among the first real-world tests of self-driving technology.
Phantom Auto will provide its remote driving system for Einride's cabless, self-driving T-pod electric trucks. Consumer surveys point to lingering public concerns about the safety of self-driving cars even as the technology launches this year with Waymo's robot-taxi service in Phoenix. Silicon Valley startup Phantom Auto thinks it can lessen that anxiety with a backup driver who can take the wheel remotely when a robot chauffeur needs help. "We're not trying to be an AV player. We want to be a safety solution," Shai Magzimof, Phantom's 27-year-old CEO, founder and inventor of its technology, told Forbes.
Computers may be poised to take control of driving in the future, but humans will be backing them for some time yet. Tech giants Waymo and Uber Technologies Inc., auto makers General Motors Co. GM -0.85% and Nissan Motor Co. NSANY -1.16%, and upstarts like Phantom Auto are all developing ways for people to remotely assist their autonomous vehicles during complicated driving situations. "You're going to want as many different backup systems as possible, and human beings performing remote operations is one of those," said Anthony Foxx, former U.S. Transportation Secretary and adviser to venture-capital firm Autotech Ventures. Having human backup will likely help alleviate concerns that regulators and insurance companies have about the new technology, he added. Driverless cars, using sensors, cameras and digital maps, tend to navigate the world based on road markings and rules of the road.
Most of the news regarding self-driving cars comes from California or Arizona, where several suppliers and automakers have set up shop due to favorable regulations. But Drive.ai is ready to bring Texas into the fold. Drive.ai announced today that it plans to launch an on-demand self-driving car service on public roads in Frisco, Texas. Launching in July, and established in coordination with the Frisco Transportation Management Association, the service will provide autonomous rides around Frisco's "North Platinum Corridor" commercial area. This one won't be blending in with normal traffic.