Among purists blazing the path to a self-driving era, the idea of partial autonomy often induces cringes. Even among his own partners and investors, the phrase dampens enthusiasm, Felipe Chavez fears.
"Semi-autonomous" deserves more respect, he says.
Kiwibot, co-founded by CEO Chavez, launched 25 delivery robots — with a little help from remote human supervisors — in San Jose, Calif., last month. They can navigate sidewalks and street crossings almost entirely on their own. Once in a while, if they need help with a complex situation, a teleoperator assists.
Self-driving technology will come someday. In the meantime, automated technology that involves human assistance can allow for meaningful progress.
"I'm really a contrarian on this," Chavez said. "But we have an autonomous robot that can avoid obstacles. The corner-case scenarios, the part that's challenging, we have supervisors that can handle three robots at the same time. The good news? Our robots work today. We don't need to wait several years."