Teledriving startup Vay launches operations in Las Vegas, using remote drivers to deliver rental EVs to paying customers.
The company bills teledriving as a driverless mobility service, though the cars mostly avoid the hardware and software of robotaxis, instead relying on a video and sensor link to a remote control center staffed with human drivers.
The company charges customers $0.30 per minute, making this mode of travel closer to an a ride-hailing app than a multi-day rental.
The ride-hailing industry's rush toward Level 4 autonomous vehicles as a way to take gig economy drivers out of the equation did not completely bypass one relatively simpler piece of technology: Driving taxis by remote. And that's one of the innovations behind Vay, a German mobility company that uses remote drivers to deliver EVs to customers.
The idea behind the rental service is pretty simple: Instead of a customer walking up to a car rental lot, an EV is remotely driven to a customer's location once it's requested via an app, allowing them to jump in and use the vehicle as a regular rental car.
Vehicle drop-off occurs in a similar fashion: Once a customer is done with the EV they can exit, and let the remote driver take over to pick up another customer.
Vay has now launched operations in Las Vegas, at first around the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) as well as the Arts District, with the city itself having become a busy ground for autonomous vehicles.
"The cost-effective per-minute rental enables a seamless journey from the 'driverless' delivery of the vehicle to its return after the journey, without the hassle of parking," the company says.
The use of the car costs customers $0.30 per minute while they're driving, and just $0.03 per minute while it's parked.
The teledrivers, meanwhile, drive the car from a remote center using a setup including steering wheel, pedals, and assorted other vehicle controls surrounded by screens. The data feed includes sounds, so that teledrivers can hear approaching emergency vehicles and other relevant noises.
"Vay's teledriving technology is an alternative approach to autonomous driving," the company says.
The tech, which took five years to develop and first launched in Hamburg, Germany, a year ago, simultaneously feels like a half-step to SAE Level 4 technology and also a clever avoidance of all the buggy autonomous vehicle software and hardware.
But it's not quite a direct competitor to robotaxis or human-driven ride-sharing cars, as customers will have to do all the driving themselves. So if you're in an unfamiliar city with a lot of traffic, figuring out where to go even with the help of turn-by-turn navigation is still something you'll have to do on your own.
At this point we can hear you asking: Why don't the teledrivers just drive the passengers around since they're already remotely driving the cars?
We suspect that's the moment where this operation becomes more expensive and labor-intensive than just having a human driver on board. The teledrivers have to split their time between several cars, so a relatively small number of teledrivers can guide a much larger fleet of cars, which is at the heart of the business case behind Vay.
It remains to be seen whether this method of rental car delivery, along with its pay-per-minute pricing, will become a popular alternative to conventional ride-hailing cars or robotaxis. But if the last few months have demonstrated anything, it's that robotaxis themselves rely on remote human monitors a surprising percentage of the time, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Is teledriving to deliver rental cars a worthwhile alternative to robotaxis, or is this more of a curious diversion from robotaxi evolution? Let us know what you think.