On this week’s episode of the Vehicle 2.0 Podcast, we are fortunate to get a closer look at the evolution of autonomous vehicles with Walter Sullivan, Chief Technology Officer at Designated Driver. In this position, Walter is responsible for the technical and product vision of the company, which provides real-time, human-operated control of autonomous vehicles in unfamiliar situations, such as when driving through road construction or inclement weather.
We’re excited to offer a selection of highlights from our interview with Walter below. If you’re interested to hear more, give the episode a listen and subscribe to stay tuned for future episodes!
Walter on what Designated Driver offers the autonomous vehicle space
Scot: So let's talk about Designated Driver. I know the name from the context of if you're out drinking and you need a designated driver, but tell me more about what you guys do.
Walter: The name does come a little bit from that idea. Designated Driver is really about providing what we call tele-operations for autonomous vehicles, and let me break that down just a little bit. We're sort of moving into this world of autonomy. Vehicles that are carrying passengers are good and many of them will start to become more and more autonomous. Which is I think great from a shared mobility perspective and a usage perspective. And you know what to think. There's a lot of promise for the technology, but we're actually getting closer to the commercialization of that. The realization is that there's still some scenarios where we just haven't been able to train or develop autonomy systems to handle correctly.
This is where it Designated Driver comes in; we provide the designated driving services of a human for an autonomous vehicle that needs that human assistance, essentially. And so the name is a play a little bit on the concept of you’ve been out drinking too long and you're really not safe for you to drive home because there are situations where maybe it isn't safe or just not feasible for an autonomous vehicle to drive itself. So that's the basic background.
Walter on the in-cabin experience of remote-controlled autonomous cars
Scot: What's the passenger experience like? Can I talk to you kind of like an Onstar type of scenario or can I see a little video of my operator?
Walter: Yeah, it's pretty much exactly that. The passenger experience we developed entails screens in the rear seats of the car, so the passengers essentially would sit in the back seat. I was actually sitting in the front seat talking to them and answering questions. The screens show a real time position of the vehicle, they show the state of the vehicle whether the vehicle is driving autonomously or whether there was a remote operator controlling the vehicle. And when a remote operator takes control of the vehicle, there's a kind of series of introductory screens. So the passengers most likely, at least in the scenario we were talking about there, which was the autonomy system encounters some sort of failure, the passenger of the vehicle is most likely going to recognize that there was a failure.
So we thought, let's have the remote operator introduce themselves and establish a video link into the car, and they can sort of make the passengers feel comfortable that someone is taking control of the vehicle. We're going to maneuver the vehicle into a safe location, everything is sort of being taken care of. As a passenger, you don't need to worry about the fact that maybe that was a failure in the vehicle and sort of establishing this human connection would help maybe ease the anxiety of people who might be in their vehicle. Ultimately, I think the passenger experience will be defined and determined by the company who is operating that vehicle. So, if you imagine, maybe it's a riding company like the ones that many of us probably use every day. They might have a specific passenger experience that they want to have it in their cars and we would certainly help them implement that. But for us it was a two way video link to the remote operator so passengers could see them, talk to them, and ask them questions.
Walter on the growing market for alternative car ownership options
Scot: Where do you see car ownership going? You're kind of living in the heart there where most people don't own cars anymore and they're using the ride shares. It seems like we get contacted by a new company trying a different type of car sharing pool and there's seems to be like 80 different models under test right now. Do you see car ownership kind of leaving from individuals to kind of more of a fleet model over that same kind of timeline we talked about with AVs?
Walter: I think that there are certain environments and certain people who car ownership, remains for decades. If you're in a city like San Francisco, Chicago, New York or a densely populated city, the benefit of owning a car is a little bit questionable. But when you go to start a family, you move out in the suburbs and suddenly a car becomes much more utilitary than in the city. And certainly, if you're even in more rural environments, having access to or ownership of your own vehicle makes a lot more sense. I see car ownership surviving for quite a while, actually.
However, what I think is clear is that people younger than you or I are much more happy with different kinds of mobility services and they're delaying the purchase of their first car or even their driver's license. I certainly would expect that to continue. Well, younger people who, at least earlier in their lives, are living in more urban environments and they're probably making a wise decision just not to bother with a car. Especially when you have such convenient point to point mobility services of available. When do we reach a tipping point of car ownership? I have no idea. That's a really good question, which I don't know how to speculate on.
We here at Spiffy were thrilled to have Walter as a guest on the Vehicle 2.0 Podcast. His foray into the automotive startup world with Designated Driver has a lot of potential with their unique autonomous technology, and we look forward to seeing how the company performs and evolves from here.
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Posted in Vehicle 2.0