Can teledriving ease anxiety surrounding autonomous vehicles?

While many people are wary about the idea of being driven by autonomous taxis, a new study suggests that we should consider teledriving as a way of overcoming that anxiety, as a bridge to a time when the driver is taken out of the equation altogether.

A taxi that is being teledriven has no driver sat up front, rather he/she is operating the vehicle remotely, from a seat in front of a bank of screens that show video feeds from cameras on the car, as well as sensors and augmented reality technology.

Using computer modeling, factoring in supply, demand and road congestion, the team, lead by Saif Benjaafar, professor of industrial and operations engineering at University of Michigan, showed that having more vehicles than drivers can shorten wait times in periods of high demand.

Such a system removes the need for drivers to travel excessive distances to pick up a client. If a passenger is dropped off at Point A and the next passenger is  across town at Point B, the driver can disconnect from the original vehicle and reconnect to a nearer one.

Apart from reducing the distance a vehicle covers,  the concept should also reduce costs to the passenger as fuel and labour are used more efficiently. 

Saif Benjaafar said: ‘Teledriving allows you to get away with far fewer drivers than vehicles without impacting the quality of service because you can still leverage the excess vehicles to get quickly to customers—a reduction of 30% to 40% in some of the test cases we considered.

‘There’s an opportunity to significantly increase how busy the drivers are. One of the challenges for ride services has always been having drivers who are sitting idle. Quite a bit of that inefficiency can be eliminated.’

The team also believe that the separation of drivers and passengers could improve the safety of both, particularly women who have been the targets of in-vehicle assault in the past.

Xiaotang Yang, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management said: ‘This research can be applied to the world/community by improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of ride-hailing and other on-demand transportation services.

‘By using teledriving, platforms can potentially operate with fewer drivers while maintaining or even improving service quality, which can lower operational costs and make these services more accessible. Additionally, this approach can help reduce traffic congestion and waiting times, leading to a better overall experience for users.’

In Los Angeles, Vay offer a car hire service whereby a vehicle is teledriven to the customer who then takes over control, driving to wherever he/she wants. When they reach their destination, there is no need to park, the remote teledriver simply resumes control and drives the car away. (see below)

The research comes at a time when concerns over the safety of autonomous ride services are being raised, following a number of high profile incidents involving vehicles without human drivers on board.

Benjaafar, who specializes in supply chains and logistics concluded: ‘Full autonomy may take longer to become a reality. In the meantime, there are these technologies that can serve as a bridge toward full autonomy, including putting the human driver back into the loop.’

Paul Day
Paul is the editor of Public Sector News.


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