Elon Musk is an optimist. Late 2015, he announced that cars would be able to drive fully autonomous by 2018. In December 2017 he pushed that date by another two years. Realistically, though, we have to expect at least another decade until we have developed the cars as well as the infrastructure to the point of full autonomy. But fret not, for innovation doesn’t sleep. .objective Software is working on closing the gap between today’s human drivers and the deployment of fully autonomous vehicles on public roads.
What is teleoperated driving?
Teleoperated driving means to remotely control a vehicle in normal traffic. While the driver controls the car remotely from a teleoperation center, potentially half the world away, he is provided with information about car’s environment. This can include a video feed, as well as a GPS-position on a map and current weather conditions. Based on this information, the remote driver is able to control the car from the control center. For this purpose, .objective Software employs a combination of technologies such as global navigation satellite system (GNSS), inertial navigation, real time kinematic (RTK) positioning, digital maps and ranging technologies such as LiDAR and cameras to identify georeferenced landmarks noted on maps.
How does this help bridge the gulf from the present to the future? For a start, it delivers the utopian future of driving autonomously without raising security concerns, as the driver remains human – just outside the car’s cockpit. This enables many use cases for the industry as well as the end consumer. We’re not only talking teleoperated vehicles in construction, logistics or public safety, but also for valet services or car sharing.
The bridge from human drivers to full autonomy
Teleoperated driving also is the answer to problems autonomous vehicles may encounter – especially in its early stages, while the algorithms are still learning. Consider extreme situations which experienced drivers could handle but would stump a computer, namely dealing with weather. How does a computer deal with flash floods, or fallen trees? Can an algorithm handle sinkholes? Until cars have learned how maneuver difficult situations, teleoperation offers the human experience needed.
Don’t be alarmed: Fully autonomous driving is coming and if Elon Musk keeps pushing his predictions, he will be right eventually. In the meantime, we are working on solutions that are actually palpable in the near future.