SAN JOSE, Calif. — In an era of self-driving vehicles, roadside assistance could transform into on-road assistance.
Instead of asking OnStar for help, riders might instead press a button and ask a remote driver to control the vehicle through situations autonomous driving systems deem too complex to handle on their own. Sometimes, the vehicles themselves will ask for an intervention.
That's the premise of Designated Driver, a startup in Portland, Ore., that has enabled remote control of both autonomous and traditional vehicles. Surrounded by six monitors that provide real-time video and information, one of the company's remote operators can drive from hundreds of miles away.
"We'll see autonomous vehicles start to anticipate where they're going to need a human to intervene," said Walter Sullivan, chief technology officer at Designated Driver. "Maybe a couple of hundred meters before a construction zone there will be a request, and in several seconds, an operator can take over, understand the situation and maneuver the vehicle safely."
As automakers and tech companies reach the realization that widespread operations of fully self-driving vehicles remain years away, they're seeking ways to ensure they can deploy in the meantime with the means and know-how to support vehicles that get stuck in tricky situations.
"There's a big gap in figuring out how we can actually deploy autonomous driving in the near future when the technology isn't fully baked yet," said Bobby Hambrick, founder and CEO of AutonomouStuff, a supplier of r&d platforms and software for the fledgling AV industry that is Designated Driver's first customer.
Remote operations, also known as teleoperations, are increasingly viewed as a linchpin to the first wave of AV deployments. In California, teleoperation capabilities already are required for companies testing autonomous vehicles that are permitted to operate without human safety drivers.
Designated Driver, which expects to be deployed on AutonomouStuff products in 2020, isn't the only company forging into the remote-operations market. Global supplier Valeo demonstrated its technology in a closed parking lot at CES in January in Las Vegas, and Phantom Auto, another Silicon Valley startup, has entered the space as well.