At Drive.ai, a self-driving car company with small fleets up and running in Frisco and Arlington, Texas, the focus is on solving real transportation problems. The company started as a research-driven enterprise, but now they are driving on the real road toward an autonomous future.
Bijit Halder, Drive.ai’s CEO, acknowledged that the car industry is in a transformative phase, perhaps equivalent to the inception of the car itself.
“There are so many new things going on, but I want to focus on one single topic, which I feel is fundamental for autonomous technology to be accepted by users,” said Halder. “From hardware and software to infrastructure and the OEMs, everybody is trying to improve transportation."
"And with that goal, I believe we should focus on user experience to make self-driving vehicles acceptable to and adoptable by everybody.”
The number one issue when people think about driving in Los Angeles is traffic. Of course, traffic is not only an LA problem. According to Halder, across the nation people waste an average of 15 minutes of their daily routine stuck in traffic. Beyond the gridlock, more than 40,000 people die and 4.5 million are injured every year in car accidents at a cost of over $410 billion annually.
Beyond that, there are simply too many cars. Halder said there are 275 million cars registered in the United States today and 95 percent of the time they sit idle. And 76 percent of us nearly always drive alone. Further, there are 2 billion parking spaces in the U.S. for those 275 million cars. The kicker? That real estate is worth an estimated $9 trillion, according to Halder.
“Ninety four percent of auto accidents are caused by human driver error,” said Halder. “We are the most dangerous things on the road. So it's neither efficient nor safe. How can we improve? We have to address three fundamental problems: 1. We have to make our roads much safer—meaning remove the human driver. 2. We have to utilize our cars more often than 5 percent of the time. 3. We need to increase the occupancy per car.”
What is the right solution? Halder calls it public transportation 2.0—transportation as a personalized service. He says it combines the best aspects of public transportation, ride sharing and your own car. And to manage the least safe part of transportation, Halder suggests removing the human driver.
“We are working to make this dream a reality,” said Halder. “Right now, in Frisco and Arlington, you can get a ride, any day of the week, any hour of the day, in one of our self-driving cars. Our cars are solving real problems for real people. But one problem remains: Our cars are safe statistically and technologically, but in terms of perception, how do people feel about it? Do people feel safe? As an industry, we must address this emotional component.”
At Drive.ai the ultimate goal is to provide that peace of mind. Their cars are designed to communicate with the environment both inside and outside the car as effectively as possible.
For example, Drive.ai cars are distinct. Not beautiful, as Halder says, but distinct, with a bold orange color that stands for enhanced safety and a logo which declares that this is a self-driving car.
And it’s not just color. The cars also have four external panels—one in the front, one in the back and two on the sides—that communicate with the external world. The panels establish a bidirectional communication channel that is both informative and responsive. They are informative in that they clarify the intentions of the car, what the car is doing or what it is about to do, such as “slowing down,” “stopping” or “waiting for you to cross.” They are responsive in that they assess the contextual environment around the car and respond accordingly. All these factors—perception, motion planning, everything that enables the car to self-drive—are fundamentally connected to Drive.ai’s artificial intelligence stack.
When there's no driver in the car, how do we make passengers, pedestrians and other motorists feel safe?” asked Halder. “This is the problem facing the self-driving car industry that we need to solve before we can expect the mass market to adopt it.”
In Halder’s view, the automotive industry is coming to the realization, like the airlines, that alliances make sense. “Mobility is a huge issue and going it alone will not be productive in the long run,” he said. “This is not a time for heroism, it is a time for teamwork.”