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Teledriving: The Lazy Way to Autonomous Cars


In the quirky streets of suburban Berlin, a white Kia is showing off some spectacular moves, squeezing between double-parked cars, dodging roadworks, and making pedestrians do a double-take. Dan, the designated driver, casually chats with his passengers, commenting on everything from the capricious traffic lights to the sirens of an ambulance in hot pursuit. But here’s the punchline: Dan isn’t anywhere near the car!

No, he’s not playing hooky; he’s half a mile away at Vay’s headquarters, a German startup that specializes in this wild idea called “teledriving.” They pimp out their cars with all sorts of gadgets like radar, GPS, ultrasound, and a truckload of sensors. These contraptions let guys like Dan operate the cars from a cozy setup at the Vay office, complete with a driver’s seat, a steering wheel, pedals, and not one but three monitors offering a panoramic view of the road. It’s like playing a crazy video game, only with a real car!

Vay’s teledriving gig is their answer to the whole autonomous driving fiasco, which, as it turns out, is like trying to teach a cat to salsa dance. The big shots like Waymo, Cruise, and Tesla are starting to feel like they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. And don’t even get them started on the intricacies of parallel parking!

You see, Vay’s CEO, Thomas von der Ohe, cooked up this master plan while he was at Zoox, the robotaxi wizard. They used remote driving as a safety net for their self-driving cars. If the car ever faced a curveball, like an unexpected herd of ducks crossing the road, a human operator could swoop in from afar and steer the car to safety.

But von der Ohe was getting antsy. He was tired of the turtle-paced progress in the industry. “Robotaxis, for the past decade, always seem like they’re just three years away,” he quips. “Honestly, we’re still not sure. So we thought, why not try something different? How about we hit the road ourselves?”

So, here’s the scoop: Vay offers an alternative to robot cars. You drive it like a regular car, and once you’ve had your fun, Vay’s remote drivers take over, cruising the car to its next pit stop. It’s like having a robot valet that delivers your Zipcar right to your doorstep!

But wait, there’s more! Vay isn’t just thinking small; they want to obliterate parking spaces, rewrite the city’s rules, and bring the party to the people. In von der Ohe’s own words, “I’m on a mission to give the city back to the people. No more traffic jams and parking nightmares, just a city designed around us, not parked cars!”

And guess what? Vay isn’t new to the parking conundrum. Von der Ohe was a carpooling trailblazer back in 2009, co-founding PocketTaxi, an eco-friendly carpooling service. So the big vision isn’t new; it’s just going high-tech this time around. The goal is to set people free from car ownership, offer them flexible alternatives, and open up more space for, you know, people!

But back to the Vay journey, which started with a little toy car and has grown into a big deal. They’re like a kid’s dream come true, playing with remote-controlled cars on an airport runway. Earlier this year, they even set a record, letting a car loose on a public road in Europe without anyone inside. It’s like teaching your goldfish to do backflips!

And their ultimate plan? To get Vay out there in the wild, so you can summon an electric car with a simple click, and when you’re done, just leave it wherever – no parking hassle needed. Von der Ohe sounds confident this could happen sooner than you’d expect, possibly in months, not years. Now that’s a plot twist worth waiting for!

So, what’s next? Von der Ohe is beyond hyped about the possibilities of teledriving. Forget robot butlers; how about remote drivers taking the wheel? For instance, when airports run low on chauffeurs or the trucking industry can’t find truckers, a global team of remote drivers could save the day. “Truck drivers are away from their family for so long,” he says. “If you are remote driving a truck, you could say: ‘After my hours, I can go back to my family.’ And then another remote driver takes over, and the truck is not stuck at a gas station for however many hours.”

As von der Ohe sees it, teledriving is a game-changer, not just for the city but for a bunch of industries. He’s convinced that in a few years, people will look back and wonder why they were so obsessed with autonomy when teledriving was ready to take the wheel, no pun intended!

Now, that’s a punchline for you, isn’t it? Who knew the road to autonomous driving could be this full of twists and turns?

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