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Drive.ai Unleashes Colorful, Flashy Self-driving Vans for Trials in Texas

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【Summary】The fleet of modified Nissan NV200 vans are part of an ongoing driverless trial in Frisco, Texas. The six-month program offers free rides to residents, enabling individuals with smartphones to access a dedicated app for bookings.

Michael Cheng    Aug 11, 2018 10:00 AM PT
Drive.ai Unleashes Colorful, Flashy Self-driving Vans for Trials in Texas

Acceptance of self-driving vehicles is an important and very overlooked aspect of deployment. This is understandable, as most companies in the automotive sector are focused on making their driverless platforms more reliable and safe.

However, in order for the technology to proliferate in public locations and gain worldwide acceptance, autonomous cars need to be more welcoming and appealing to local residents. California-based startup Drive.ai's solution to such challenges includes a major revamp of its growing fleet of self-driving cars.

The company recently deployed loud and colorful driverless vans in Frisco, Texas, where the units will be used to support an autonomous shuttle service. Interestingly, this is the same tech-savvy city Uber selected to launch its flying car taxi service.

Orange and Loud

Covered in bright orange paint and large labels, the driverless shuttles can be easily spotted at far distances. Digital display boards around the vans advise pedestrians about the real-time activities of the shuttle, which includes dropping and picking up passengers, passing through intersections and more. The unit incorporates most of its external sensors on the roof of the vehicle, where the components are mounted securely.

"We want people to know that they're around a self-driving vehicle, which by its nature does not behave like a human driver," explained Bijit Halder, Product Development and Deployment Lead for Drive.ai.

"That's why we deliberately chose to make our vehicles bright orange; we want them to stand out."

As mentioned earlier, the fleet of modified Nissan NV200 vans are part of an ongoing trial in Frisco, Texas. The six-month program offers free rides to residents, enabling individuals with smartphones to access a dedicated app for bookings. For safety, the shuttles are geo-fenced, which ensures the vans stay on their fixed routes at all times.

Additionally, a safety representative is present inside every autonomous shuttle for human intervention of the vehicle (if needed). In the future, the safety drivers will be replaced with a team of remote operators.

Internal and External Displays

On public roadways, driverless vehicles behave very differently, compared to traditional (non-autonomous) cars. Because of this, pedestrians may have a difficult time gauging specific driving maneuvers of self-driving units. Drive.ai's external display panels address this issue by notifying nearby individuals about its presence at crossings and highly populated sections of the location.

To ease anxious passengers, the self-driving shuttles are equipped with internal screens. The panels provide real-time information about the vehicle's fixed path, speed and driving intentions (anticipated course of action).

Moreover, individuals riding inside the units are provided access to images generated by three cameras mounted around the van. This allows people to see their surroundings, providing peace of mind about the vehicle's autonomous driving capabilities.

"We take a deep learning-first approach. AI is at the forefront of our … vehicle platform [and] sensor platform," said Sameep Tandon, Co-founder and CEO of Drive.ai.

"Imagine there's a construction site, and in the left lane is a bulldozer. Knowing there's a construction site coming up is, from an AI perspective, hugely helpful."

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