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German firm starts remote-driving car service in Las Vegas

From DW

Jan 18, 2024

The startup Vay has launched its first commercial service in the city of Las Vegas. The company's "teledriving" involves a human driver controlling the vehicle remotely from a physical steering station miles away.

German remote-driving startup Vay said on Wednesday it had launched its first commercial service in the US city of Las Vegas.

The service is currently available around the University of Nevada Las Vegas and the city's arts district renting out electric cars by the minute.

The launch comes at a challenging time for autonomous vehicle developers amid increased regulatory scrutiny into safety issues.

But Vay says, unlike autonomous vehicles, its cars rely on a remote human driver, who controls the vehicle from a physical steering station located miles away.

The company outfits its vehicles with cameras, GPS, radar, ultrasound and a slew of other sensors to reproduce car surroundings, including traffic sounds, at the purpose-built "teledrive" station, which is equipped with a steering wheel, pedals, monitors and other controls.

A driver sits in this station and remotely controls the car.

A massive use case?

CEO Thomas von der Ohe told Reuters that the startup sees a "massive use case" for remote driving functions.

"If every vehicle drives off the production line equipped with teledriving... you can have an on-demand tele-valet that parks your car for you," said von der Ohe, "and then teledrives you home in your own car if you have a few glasses to drink."

The company, founded in 2018, has been testing the technology for over four years. It says its approach presents an alternative to driverless mobility.

In February 2023, Vay achieved a milestone by becoming the first company to drive a vehicle without a person inside on a public road in Europe.

More and more autonomous features

CEO von der Ohe said Vay's vehicle fleet should number in the "low double digits" during the first quarter.

The company has so far raised about $110 million (€101 million) from investors including Sweden's Kinnevik, Coatue and France's Eurazeo.

The startup said it will gradually introduce autonomous features as it learns from the cameras included on its vehicles that are much cheaper than the lidar and radar technology used by most autonomous vehicle developers.

"We see a decade or two of human-machine interaction where autonomous driving will play a part once it's available and ready to deploy, and then the other part will always be done by a teledriver," he said.

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