Texas A&M University is the first organization to use Designated Driver's teleoperation technology on public roads – effectively putting a human behind the wheel of the university’s autonomous vehicle (AV) fleet. The technology will provide remote human guidance to the Texas A&M AV shuttles operating downtown in nearby Bryan, Texas. The first use case: overriding the shuttles’ autonomy at four-way intersections.
“Among our most important observations over the past six months, we found that four-way intersections and stops were the most common scenarios where our safety driver had to intervene. Designated Driver's technology provides both remote driving and remote assistance – ideal for easily and safely guiding a vehicle through an intersection,” says Dr. Srikanth Saripalli, an associate professor in the J. Mike Walker '66 Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M, who has overseen the shuttle project since its inception in October 2018.
After that first phase of the deployment, Designated Driver’s remote assistance will be expanded to include providing the shuttle's autonomy system with alternative routes when faced with confusing, unanticipated obstacles.
Designated Driver, based in Portland, Oregon, offers both remote-driving and remote-assistance models for teleoperation when AVs encounter obstructions, challenging road conditions, and/or sensor malfunctions. With remote driving, the teleoperator fully takes charge of the car, using the cameras and sensors in the vehicle to maneuver it. However, in most real-world scenarios, the autonomy system is fully functional but simply unable to determine the safest path forward. In these situations – such as at the stops and intersections encountered by the Texas A&M autonomy system – Designated Driver provides remote-assistance technology.
“The Designated Driver system provides a powerful safety net for our driverless shuttles,” says Saripalli.
While Designated Driver technology will eventually replace the safety driver, the shuttles will continue to include a safety “navigator” who will provide support and educate the passengers on the technology. The shuttles will be controlled and monitored by a dedicated teleoperations center at Texas A&M.
“We are enabling Texas A&M to get the safety driver out of the driver's seat by deploying a reliable teleoperation solution," says Manuela Papadopol, CEO of Designated Driver. “This model lowers the barrier to entry for any company to provide safe autonomous solutions. We're excited to help Texas A&M continue to expand its autonomous shuttle program in other vehicles and cities and look forward to using this opportunity to further study the behavior of teleoperators and provide the best user experience for all riders.”
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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.
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