Texas A&M University is adding Designated Driver’s teleoperation technology to its autonomous shuttles. This is the first commercial deployment on public roads for Designated Driver’s teleoperation system, and the company will remotely provide guidance to the shuttles operating in downtown Bryan, Texas.
In the first phase of the deployment, Designated Driver’s Remote Assistance will be integrated into the Texas A&M shuttle autonomy system to authorize the shuttle to proceed at four-way intersections and stops. Over time, additional Designated Driver functionality will be added, including the ability to provide the shuttle’s autonomy system with alternative routes, when needed, enabling it to safely navigate around unanticipated obstacles.
“The Designated Driver system provides a powerful ‘safety net’ for our driverless shuttles,” said Dr. Srikanth Saripalli, an associate professor in the J. Mike Walker ’66 Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M, who has overseen the shuttle project since its inception in October 2018. “Among our most important observations over the past six months, we found that four-way intersections and stops were the most common scenarios where our safety driver had to intervene. Designated Driver’s technology provides both remote driving and remote assistance—ideal for easily and safely guiding a vehicle through an intersection.”
Enabling remote control of vehicles in the event of obstructions, challenging road conditions and sensor malfunction or where operation is difficult or hazardous, Designated Driver uniquely offers both remote-driving and remote-assistance models for teleoperation. With remote driving, the teleoperator fully takes charge of the car, using the cameras and sensors in the vehicle to maneuver it. However, in most real-world scenarios, the autonomy system is fully functional but simply unable to determine the safest path forward. In these situations—such as at the stops and intersections encountered by the Texas A&M autonomy system — Designated Driver provides remote-assistance technology.
While Designated Driver technology will eventually replace the safety driver, the shuttles will continue to include a safety navigator who will provide support and educate the passengers on the technology. The shuttles will be controlled and monitored by a dedicated teleoperations center at Texas A&M.
“We are enabling Texas A&M to get the safety driver out of the driver’s seat by deploying a reliable teleoperation solution,” said Manuela Papadopol, CEO, Designated Driver. “This model lowers the barrier to entry for any company to provide safe autonomous solutions. We’re excited to help Texas A&M continue to expand its autonomous shuttle program in other vehicles and cities and look forward to using this opportunity to further study the behavior of teleoperators and provide the best user experience for all riders.”