Long distance driving is a sneaky shortcut to robotaxi

On the busy In the streets of a Berlin suburb, south of Tempelhofer Feld, a white Kia skillfully navigates through double-parked cars, construction sites, cyclists and pedestrians. Dan, the driver, strikes up a conversation with his passengers, noticing the changing lights and the sound of an ambulance screaming by in the other direction. But Dan isn’t in the car.

Instead, he’s half a mile away in the offices of German startup Vay. The company equips its cars with radar, GPS, ultrasound and a range of other sensors to allow drivers like Dan to remotely control the vehicles from a purpose-built station equipped with a driver’s seat, steering wheel, pedals and three monitors for visibility in front and next to the car.

Vay’s approach, which it calls teledriving, is touted as an alternative to fully autonomous driving, which is proving much harder to achieve than first thought – such as: b Waymo, cruiseAnd Tesla discover. Vay was co-founded by Fabrizio Scelsi, Bogdan Djukic and Thomas von der Ohe, whose personal revelation came while working at Zoox, one of the world’s leading companies in robotaxi development.

At Zoox, long-distance driving was used as a failsafe for self-driving cars. If a self-driving car encounters an unexpected obstacle, a human operator could use teleguidance to remotely take control of the vehicle and steer it around the obstacle.

But von der Ohe was frustrated by the industry’s slow progress. “Over the last decade, robotaxis have always felt like they were three years old,” he says. “Actually, we still don’t know. So we thought about a different approach: How can we bring something to market faster that has great benefits for the customer and the cities?”

Von der Ohe recognized that remote human assistance has many advantages over fully autonomous vehicles. It could prevent cars from getting stuck in difficult situations and address safety concerns. Plus, it could be ready years, if not decades, sooner. “Why don’t we just drive ourselves?” he says.

Vay, where von der Ohe is now CEO, is positioning itself as an alternative approach to driverless mobility. While customers drive the vehicles as usual, Vay’s “Teledrivers” take control of the vehicles after use and drive them remotely to their next destination, a Zipcar that delivers itself to your door.

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