Driverless car-hailing trial underway in Milton Keynes

British start-up Imperium Drive has begun the first UK trials of Fetch, a new on-demand car-hailing service using remote-controlled driverless vehicles, that combines the instant convenience of ride hailing with the flexibility and low cost of car sharing.

Key points:

  • Fetch introduces a new car sharing concept enabled by remote driving tech
  • Major trial underway in Milton Keynes, backed by UK government and industry
  • Remote driverless technology smooths the transition to self-driving vehicles and robots

The service enables users to summon an unmanned vehicle via an app, which is driven by a remote driver to their location. The customer then drives the car normally to their destination, from where a remote vehicle operator takes over and pilots the car back to base or to the next user.

Remote driving technology is already being trialled in other countries, but Fetch is the first application in the UK.

The service represents the first step towards fully autonomous vehicles operating on UK roads, with the company aiming to transition to full autonomy for car deliveries in the next five years.

For short trips of up to a couple of hours, the service offers the same convenience as a ride-hailing or taxi service, but with the ability to cover greater distances at less than half the cost of services like Uber or Bolt.

For fleet operators in the car sharing and short-term rental sector, remote driving technology can significantly increase revenue per car.

They can relocate cars more quickly at periods of high demand, such as during rush hour, which is key to maximising utilisation rates. They can also extend the reach of their operations to enable intercity travel, while reducing fleet management costs associated with repositioning cars when rental periods end.

Fetch trials are underway in Milton Keynes with a variety of vehicle types, from standard saloon cars to electric microcars, each equipped with Imperium Drive’s proprietary remote driving software. The technology, which uses 5G connectivity, enables remote operators to switch between controlling different cars when required.

The technology, which uses 5G connectivity, enables remote operators to switch between controlling different cars when required

The fleet is currently operating on private routes before the service is extended to include public roads in the next 12 months. The company aims to launch a fully operational remote-operated car-hailing service in the UK in the second half of 2022.

Koosha Kaveh, CEO of Imperium Drive, said: “For many people, public transport is cheap but inconvenient, while ride-hailing and taxis are convenient but also expensive. Our goal is to make on-demand door-to-door transport more cost-effective and convenient than every alternative, even privately owned cars.

“There are real environmental benefits too, with the potential to greatly reduce the number of private cars on the road. With Fetch, users hail a car to their doorstep and within minutes can be on their way, driving themselves to their destination in their own time and at their convenience. They don’t even have to worry about parking when they get there.”

The service enables users to summon an unmanned vehicle via an app, which is driven by a remote driver to their location

The UK Fetch trial is backed by private investment and supported by Milton Keynes Council, with funding also provided by the government’s ‘5G Create’ initiative. It has also been awarded funding by start-up accelerator funds Entrepreneur First and Techstars.

Imperium Drive is partnering with car manufacturers to assess its use in a variety of vehicles, from city cars suitable for urban mobility to larger cars and commercial vehicles for highway driving.

“As its AI-engine gains experience and the system advances with more autonomous driving features, the requirement for human intervention will diminish gradually during the vehicle delivery and valet parking, leading to the safe implementation of fully autonomous car-hailing services over time.

Imperium Drive’s leadership team has a combined 45 years of experience in telecoms, robotics, autonomous vehicles and advanced mobility, with more than 60 patents and over 500 scientific citations.

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