The future of transport is coming… not that anyone will be at the physical controls of it!
Plans for driverless – or autonomous – vehicles have been in the pipeline for years, with a combination of government funded private companies and large transport and tech companies, such as Apple, Google and Uber, currently rushing to refine their technology for mainstream use.
At a more local level, however, the first turns of a project to unleash driverless vehicles on the road is coming to Milton Keynes with a little help from the MK Dons Football Club.
Initiated by a company named Imperium Drive, the trial will involve a small two-seat vehicle named ‘Fetch’, which can be hailed via a smartphone app. Once inside the car sets off on its journey to deliver you to your destination.
However, while the ultimate goal is for the whole process to be controlled by a computer, for this trial there will be a person in a control room driving the car remotely. Think of it as a drone on four wheels… or the equivalent of Train Simulator for real.
“It’s driverless but not autonomous,” said Imperium Drive CEO Koosha Kaveh. “There’s still a human involved, but they will be sitting in a control centre controlling the vehicle in the same way you would control a drone.
“We’re working towards making remote driving safer than normal driving. In normal driving, you still have blindspots around you that cause accidents. You also can’t anticipate what’s coming in terms of traffic, pedestrians or cyclists.”
What does this mean for motorcyclists?
While the COVID-19 pandemic has given projects such as these a boost by using the argument that it limits potentially harmful human interaction in an enclosed space, the enthusiasm for autonomous driving at government level is not broadly shared in the motorcycle community.
Indeed, while autonomous vehicles are designed to be safer and more accurate when predicting and mitigating manoeuvres or sudden movements around it, it is known the technology is having a harder time reacting safely to faster accelerating and direction shifting motorcycles.
While companies are hoping to install autonomous vehicles with data so it recognises a car and its credentials – such as acceleration – because many motorcycles are customised or more easily affected by weight, these wouldn’t provide an accurate enough reading. Recently a government proposal suggested limiting customisation in future could be the end result.
Naturally, it isn’t feasible to imagine your taxi being driven by someone in a control centre on the road, so for now Fetch will simply be ferrying players from MK Dons football ground to and from training. However, it is hoped to be taking the project to Milton Keynes itself very soon before a roll-out in two years time.