SALT LAKE CITY — Ride-sharing has disrupted the car rental and taxi industries over the past decade, and now Halo, a service that plans to launch in the Las Vegas area this year, hopes to bring innovation to the ride-sharing industry itself. It plans to run its service using electric vehicles that are "driverless," but not in the way one might expect.
To hop a ride on Halo, customers would call up a vehicle using Halo's mobile app. From there, the vehicle would head to the customer's location, controlled by a human remotely, with nobody in the driver's seat. The customer would take the wheel once the car arrives.
A promotional video shows what appears to be a Kia Niro electric crossover, decked out in Halo markings, arriving at the curb in front of a passenger's home. The promo video then cuts to a Halo engineer who has been using a steering wheel to direct the vehicle as he watches a video feed on a large screen.
Halo plans to operate only in the Las Vegas Valley initially. In a conversation over email, CEO Anand Nandakumar, who founded Halo in 2019, said that the company is targeting a launch of at least five all-electric vehicles, but will start expanding operations after the first deployment.
One major factor in Halo's Las Vegas launch is the company's relationship with T-Mobile, which provides 5G coverage in the area. Halo is one of several startups that have participated in the 5G Open Innovation Lab, which T-Mobile, Intel and others co-founded last year to help fuel development of new 5G applications.
Nandakumar called the telecom company one of Halo's "key partners," noting: "Our cars operate on 4G and LTE with the current infrastructure in place, but 5G helps significantly in bringing down the latency of our remote operations."
In a press release, John Saw, T-Mobile's executive vice president, advanced and emerging technologies, said, "Driverless vehicles require a network with high capacity, broad coverage and low latency, making T-Mobile 5G a perfect match for developers such as Halo."
A strong Internet connection helps ensure that the vehicles stay connected to remote drivers. Halo's RemotePilot technology allows them to move cars between pickup locations as soon as customers reach their destinations.
For some tech-wary riders, this new way to travel might take some getting used to. In T-Mobile's press release, Nandakumar acknowledged this: "Full autonomy is a massive challenge from both a technical and social trust perspective that won't be solved for years to come. But Halo has been designed to address these challenges by building automation over time starting with a solution that consumers will feel comfortable using today."
Halo says it has developed an advanced "safe stop" mechanism that provides a layer of protection from road hazards. It enables its cars to immediately stop if a potential safety hazard or system anomaly is detected. In addition, intelligent learning algorithms help the vehicles learn from the driving behaviors of humans behind the wheel and constantly improve the experience overall.
Nandakumar noted that Halo's leadership team "will share more information on how the rollout will be upon [completion of Halo's] internal operational strategy."
In a recent mobility tech report, re- search firm Pitchbook said Halo's model could "disrupt the dynamics of the mobility industry by offering the convenience of on-demand ride-hailing with the flexibility of car-sharing."
Additionally, Pitchbook wrote: "Halo's approach is highly scalable and avoids the immense capital expense, complexity and timeline uncertainty of developing and commercializing robotaxis."