June 9, 2023
Driverless cars for hire are becoming a reality in the United Kingdom with the launch of a new service, Fetch, by London-based start-up Imperium Drive.
Customers in the Buckinghamshire city of Milton Keynes, around 50 miles north-west of London, can now order vehicles to their front door that are remotely driven by human operators.
The commercial launch of the service follows a successful 18-month trial period in the city.
Cars from Fetch’s electric fleet are hired through the company’s app and then delivered to customers. They drive the vehicle to their chosen destination, and the remote operator then resumes control to take the car to the next hire, or back to base.
It’s a similar model to the one being pursued by German teledriving company Vay, which successfully conducted driverless tests in Hamburg earlier this year, and recently announced that it was heading to the United States to commence operations in Las Vegas.
An array of cameras on Fetch’s cars provides operators with a 360-degree view around the vehicle, which they observe on a bank of monitors at the control hub. Connection to the vehicle is by cellular networks, with more than one used in case the signals dips or drops. Computer imaging, meanwhile, can detect vehicles nearby.
Potential latency issues – where there might be dangerous delays over the network – are addressed via the ability to implement a “minimum risk maneuver," where onboard tech can bring the vehicle to a halt. And in time, the autonomous capabilities of the vehicles will evolve further.
“It’s driverless but not autonomous – yet,” said Koosha Kaveh, chief executive of Imperium Drive. “There’s still a human involved, but they’re sitting in a control center piloting the vehicle in the same way you would a drone. When fully autonomous, we think this system has the potential to replace private car ownership in the U.K.
“Why pay all the costs of having a car on your drive when you can just pay for one to arrive when you need it? For short trips, the service offers the same convenience as a ride-hailing or taxi service, but with the ability to cover greater distances at less than half the cost of services like Uber or Bolt.”
Initially, the four cars in the Fetch fleet will operate within a four-mile radius of the Milton Keynes city center hub. But it is understood that Imperium Drive is already eyeing other locations for potential expansion, including the Bedfordshire town of Luton just over 20 miles away – a particularly interesting and potentially lucrative choice, given that it is home to an airport that served well over 13 million passengers in 2022.
Fetch’s remote drivers have to possess a traditional British driving license, and as was laid out in Law Commission recommendations published earlier this year, must be based in the U.K. – even though the tech exists to allow them to pilot the cars from abroad.
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