Drive.ai is a hitherto unknown player in the self-driving car market. However, that will soon change, because the startup from Mountain View will test from today in Texas with their bright orange cars. They are certainly not the first with a self-driving van, but those vans are visually much more recognizable than the sleek white cars from Waymo . Not only are the vans clearly marked as a ‘self-driving vehicle’, they also have very clever four LED screens at the front, back and sides. It specifically states what the car is doing for the benefit of pedestrians and other road users.
So you can see ‘waiting for you to cross’ on the side if you want to cross as a pedestrian. Then you can go with peace of mind, knowing that the car has seen you. At the back there is also ‘waiting’ with a moving image of a crossing pedestrian, so that the cars behind the self-driving car know why it is stopped. The software that makes that possible is made by the startup itself. The sensors, cameras, Lidar and radar systems are purchased and in principle the same as those of other self-driving cars.
It is a logical evolution of the self-driving car and once you have seen the system you wonder why not every manufacturer of self-propelled systems has this. The test in Dallas allows people to take a ride in one of the four cars that all drive within a radius of three kilometers. In the first instance, a driver will be taken along in order to intervene, but drive.ai really wants that role to gradually shift and that no one really needs it before 2019. In order to still be able to do something, a system has been installed that makes it possible to take over the car remotely, although the startup does not hope to use it.
After someone killed in in March by a self-driving car from Uber, public opinion regarding autonomous vehicles has cooled down considerably. A system like that of drive.ai takes a good share of the uncertainty about what self-driving cars all do. The simple addition of a communication channel that you can compare with the (hand) signals from a driver helps enormously. The combination of the screens and the bright colors may not be as chic as the other self-propelled parties, it is clear. If there is one thing that people need a lot in traffic, it is clarity.
As long as the vans do not say one thing and do the other, this is a very good development that hopefully will soon be taken over by everyone. If drive.ai has gotten a kind of patent for this system, you can wait for the startup to be taken over by one of the major parties, but until that time they mainly show what extra communication can do for a self-driving car.