In the area of autonomous technology, the role of a teleoperator is an important one. A remote human operator can remotely drive or monitor autonomous vehicles and intervene whenever the situation demands it. To do this, it is imperative that they receive real-time data and video feeds, free of any latency or glitches.
The Andromeda Consortium, which was created by the Israel Innovation Authority in partnership with academic institutions and leading Israeli companies in this space, is trying to solve a whole spectrum of problems that the area of teleoperation faces, such as: human-machine interface; cybersecurity; interoperability and scalability.
Leading this consortium is DriveU.auto, a provider of software-based connectivity platform for teleoperation of autonomous vehicles. Auto Futures caught up with CEO, Alon Podhurst, to find out more.
Speaking about the company, Podhurst says: “Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) will always require some level of ‘human in the loop’, to assist in mission completion in edge cases which cannot be properly handled by the AV and this without compromising on safety. Teleoperation of AVs – remote human oversight and the ability to intervene are mandatory in many regions where autonomous vehicles are being deployed. To that end, DriveU.auto developed and is deploying a software-based Connectivity platform for Autonomous Vehicle Teleoperation.”
In October 2019 DriveU.auto was spun out of LiveU, the world leader in cellular-based field video transmission, deployed by more than 3,000 customers worldwide, and acquired by Francisco Partners in 2019.
Podhurst explained that teleoperation requires the transmission of reliable, high quality and low latency video, as well as additional data such as audio, telemetry, other sensors and control messages from the AV to the remote-control station. Such high-performance connectivity is simply not possible over a single cellular network, not even over the 5G networks.
DriveU.auto, which is available with hardware or as a software-only implementation, uses proprietary cellular bonding and dynamic video encoding technologies to provide high-speed, low-latency, ultra-reliable transmission of 4k video, audio streams, high-speed data and control channels.
“Autonomous vehicles have made great leaps forward. Examples of hours of uninterrupted AV driving have been released by Mobileye, Voyage, Kodiak, Waymo, Cruise and others. Yet there are, and probably always will be, cases where the AI does not ‘know’ what to do, or its level of confidence in selecting the appropriate action is too low – such as in edge cases which include construction zones and complex interaction with human drivers – instances in which the AV requires human assistance for mission accomplishment,” explains Podhurst.
“In light of the above, and as has been widely acknowledged by industry leaders and government entities such as NIST (US National Institute of Standards and Technology), AV teleoperations is needed. Teleoperation is the technical term for the operation of an unmanned machine, system or robot from a distance. Teleoperation is needed in order to ensure AVs are able to complete their mission under any circumstances. Some even see teleoperations as the stopgap between driven and driverless vehicles.”
“In teleoperations, remote operators residing in a command & control center are ready to be called on by an AV in need, prepared to guide the AV on how to overcome a specific obstacle, or take over the entire driving operation until the challenge is dealt with. Teleoperation can speed up AV deployment by providing a trustworthy fallback mechanism both during testing and after commercial launch,” he adds.
Willingness to accept autonomous vehicles is an issue that has the potential to slow down widespread deployment of autonomous vehicles.
Bad network connectivity and network latency is a big challenge in the teleoperation space. When asked whether unreliable cellular connectivity poses a challenge to its platform, Podhurst said: “Unreliable cellular connectivity is exactly the problem that DriveU.auto’s connectivity platform is designed to overcome.
“Unpredictable network behavior, including uplink throughput, delay, jitter, and packet loss or even simply standard cell handover wreak havoc on a video stream. The way streaming services overcome these issues is by adding buffers which increase latency, something clearly unacceptable for teleoperations. All this means that a single network – even 5G – is not enough to support teleoperation. We solve the connectivity challenge by using multiple modems from different mobile network operators.
“Our bonding technology transmits simultaneously on all the networks the video and data, so that issues on one network can be overcome by the others. In this way, we create a single high-capacity reliable virtual link from multiple unreliable links. DriveU.auto’s Autonomous Vehicle connectivity platform works over multiple networks in parallel using patented cellular bonding technology, dynamic 4k video encoding and advanced algorithms that enable adaptation to changing networks’ conditions in real-time.”
DriveU.auto’s solution advances autonomy irrespective of use case, serving as a mission-critical teleoperation-enabling connectivity platform across multiple use cases of autonomous technology.
In fact, on asking Podhurst about the use cases that the platform is currently employed on, he says: “It is in use on roads with use cases such as robo-taxis, shuttles, autonomous trucking and mid mile delivery. On sidewalks and in buildings by delivery robots. In logistics yards and warehouses, where automation is driven by autonomous forklifts, autonomous mobile robots, autonomous guided vehicles and more. Finally, it is used in off-road sites or sites with heavy machinery such as agriculture, mining and construction. Furthermore, it can be used both for direct driving, or to provide high level commands or additional information to the AI when needed.”
For Podhurst, one of the challenges that DriveU.auto faces is something that continues to be a concern for the autonomous mobility space at large – public perception. While there is one group who can’t wait to have this technology on the roads, there is another who looks at this technology with relative scepticism.
“Public perception and willingness to accept autonomous vehicles is an issue that has the potential to slow down widespread deployment of autonomous vehicles. As part of the industry, the issue of public perception affects us as well. However, teleoperation offers the ability to alleviate some of these concerns by assuring mission accomplishment in all scenarios,” he says.
“A different issue and a misconception that we sometimes encounter about 5G technology – that it will solve all connectivity issues. 5G is a great technology with high capacity and low latency. But as with any mobile generation, widespread 5G deployment will take years. Till then there will be pockets with coverage, and much more areas without it. What’s more, it does not address many other issues that have to do with continuous reliable connectivity in motion, that are inherent to cellular technology,” he adds.
DriveU.auto is here to stay. In a fairly short span of time, the company has made significant progress, and according to Podhurst, there’s more in the pipeline.
“We definitely have plans for expansion. We are currently growing our workforce to expand our deployment capabilities and ramping up our operations, as well as building out our next generation products,” concludes Podhurst.