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During the transitional phase of autonomous vehicles, there have been many different approaches to how the technology is rolled out. For the most part, the technology is there, but the lack of rules, safety guidelines and general knowledge means that the industry is not prepared to take the risk. And rightly so.

Although we may not be at level 5 just yet, autonomous features have been introduced into many vehicles, through automatic emergency braking, lane control and, in some cases, level 4 functionality.

However, we are still some way off wide-spread autonomous software. This isn’t such as bad thing, as it has opened up new processes and ideas surrounding the emergence of self-driving technology.

Take Designated Driver for example, which adds real-time, human-operated control of virtually any autonomous vehicle to overcome difficult situations where a self-driving vehicle cannot operate. 

It is the only solution offering both direct and indirect models for teleoperation. Other remote-control solutions only enable the direct model, with the teleoperator fully taking charge of the car, using the cameras and sensors in the vehicle to manoeuvre it.

Putting the Driver (back) into Driverless

Auto Futures spoke to CEO Manuela Papadopol, who believes that her company has bridged the gap between today’s autonomy and vehicles that are fully capable of operation almost anywhere.

“For every situation and any vehicle, Designated Driver allows a remote operator to seamlessly operate all vehicle controls, with 360-degree bi-directional visual and audio interface supported by lidar, radar and sonar visualisation and safety controls,” she explains.

Ultimately, Designated Driver offers operators the dedicated operation of remote vehicles, as well as the seamless takeover of autonomous vehicles when they enter unfamiliar situations. 

This is an incredibly interesting way to look at the utilisation of autonomous software, by focusing on the remote control of a vehicle, instead of what we have been used to seeing within the industry over the last few years. 

Legislation Vs Limitation

When it comes to autonomous technology, says Papadopol, there are two key reasons driving the need for Designated Driver. The legislation surrounding self-driving cars and the limitations of autonomous technology.

“Most major autonomous vehicle players are either preparing for teleoperation of their vehicles or testing it already,” she says. “Some US states – California among them – allow self-driving car testing on public roads without humans inside. However, they are mandating a remote operator be able to control the vehicle in case the autonomous vehicle is encountering problems with its sensors or requires assistance.”

Designated Driver is providing the human support and, through its teleoperation solutions, is able to support carmakers and technology companies in testing their autonomous systems in a safe, secure manner.

When it comes to technology, autonomous vehicles are limited by complex and unexpected situations on the road, such as pedestrians, animals, litter and the weather.  Unless we solve this problem. the promise of Level 4 autonomy is compromised.

“Autonomous vehicles today can do one of two things when confronted with a situation beyond their ability to successfully navigate,” adds Papadopol. “Automatically enter a safe state to simply stop the vehicle and cease operation, or turn over control to an onboard human operator.”

If there is an issue with an autonomous vehicle today, the onboard operator can easily regain control of the car. However, this creates limitation to the efficiencies of autonomous Level 4 and 5 operation. Without a reliable, robust, remote operation, autonomous vehicles will always fall short.

Bridging The Gap

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES), has quickly become one of the most important dates on the automotive calendar. Papadopol and her team got the chance to meet with key automotive players and hear what they had to say about the future of autonomous vehicles.

“Contrary to a year ago, the industry is no longer talking about level 5 autonomy,” she says. “Most people are, rightly so, thinking of the move to full autonomy as an evolution, not a revolution.”

Papadopol is happy to see the industry taking baby steps toward this milestone; she believes that self-driving cars can move the needle in the right direction relative to road safety. However, with vehicle manufacturers feeling the pressure to get products to market as quickly as possible, steps can be missed. 

“The use of teleoperation shouldn’t be postponed until level 4 or 5 vehicles are a reality,” she continues. “Teleoperation solves needs now, enabling vehicles with Advanced Driver Assistance Systems to avoid obstacles.”

Designated Driver’s technology bridges the gap between getting autonomous software to market faster and safer. On the journey to full autonomy, it is inevitable that Level 4 and 5 vehicles will encounter challenging situations that they simply cannot handle without human intervention. Thus, it is important to provide a human solution – albeit remotely – in situations where self-driving technology isn’t designed to work; otherwise, we could see cities littered with stranded autonomous vehicles.

“Functional Safety Is Mandatory, Not Elective”

Above all else, self-driving cars present vast business opportunities. A recent report from Strategy Analytics projected that the passenger economy will represent a $7 trillion opportunity globally in 2050.

Mobility-as-a-service will generate $3 trillion in revenues, and new emerging applications and services will account for $203 billion in revenues.

“Realising this revolution in transportation depends on the development of smart engineering solutions,” says Papadopol. “Teleoperation, a technology and service platform that enables remote driving assistance, is a critical piece in getting autonomous vehicles on the road faster and more safely.”

More importantly, 585,000 lives will be saved by pilotless vehicles and commuters will gain over 250 million hours of ‘free time’ per year in global cities. In addition, reductions in public safety costs related to traffic accidents will amount to more than $234 billion.

These figures show that autonomous vehicles are the future, improving the safety and efficiency of transport around the world while also providing new business opportunities. Designated Driver is at the forefront of this change, continuously enhancing its products, building more functionality and working with respected independent certification companies.

“For us, functional safety is mandatory, not elective,” says Papadopol. “We will continue to refine our user experience and interaction for both the passengers and the teleoperator.”

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