September 7, 2021
Germany-based Vay has announced it will become the first company with a driverless, certified commercial mobility service operating on public streets in Europe, as soon as next year. Operating in stealth mode since its 2018 founding, the company said it will put “teledrivers” at the steering wheel of vehicles in metropolitan areas as a path towards autonomy.
“Our advanced technology enables a person (the ‘teledriver’) to remotely drive a vehicle,” said Thomas von der Ohe, co-founder and CEO of Vay. “This allows for a safe and timely rollout of driverless mobility services that users and cities trust as a human is still in full control.”
Vay said that while serving customers and collecting high quality teledriving data over time, it will be able to launch autonomous features gradually, starting with the ones that are safe and ready to deploy.
The company’s fleet of vehicles is already operating with safety drivers across all of Berlin today. Recent technological advances will allow the company to remove the safety driver from its vehicles next year.
The system is built to be safer than conventional driving by controlling the top four causes fo fatal urban accidents: Speeding, intoxication, distraction, and fatigue, Vay said. In addition, when compared with conventional driving from within a car, Vay’s teledrivers have augmented skills, including 360-degree blindspot-free vision. The company added that its system is engineered to the highest and latest automotive safety and security standards (ISO26262 and ISO21434), and includes redundancies throughout its system, including the simultaneous use of multiple cellular networks.
“As our system does not rely on expensive 360-degree lidar sensors, and is therefore comparatively inexpensive, our way of rolling out driverless vehicles will not only enable consumers to experience driverless mobility sooner, but also provide a highly scalable solution that can be integrated into every car,” said von der Ohe. “Having spent six years in Silicon Valley, we are now eager to build a global, first-of-its kind, deep-tech company from Europe.”
Why this matters
Developing full autonomous vehicles (Level 4 or 5) is very complicated, so many companies are exploring teleoperation (or ‘teledriving’) services as a way to get cars on the road before full autonomy is achieved. It should be interesting to see whether customers are OK with entering an empty car that is fully autonomous or if they know a remote driver is handling the driving duties. Network connectivity options concern us, which is why this may be an urban mobility solution versus a suburban or rural area option.
Vay said it will start by offering the most affordable door-to-door transportation service. People can order a car, which arrives within a few minutes, and then drive themselves to their destination. Upon arrival, they will be able to leave the car without having to park it. The company said this will be offered at a fraction of the cost of an Uber ride, which is why it believes its service will be highly competitive with owning a car in urban areas.
The company said its technology can also be applied to other use cases, ranging from ride hailing to ride sharing, parcel and food delivery, from buses to trucks, and from mining to construction machinery. The company said its ambition is to not only bring Europe back to the forefront of the race to develop driverless vehicles, but also to create a new job category: the teledriver.
Vay said the teledriver job has significant benefits over taxi or ride-hailing jobs, as teledrivers can work from the same place every day, and are paid a fixed income. Vay said it believes that teledriving will create more inclusive and gender-balanced employment opportunities, due to the additional safety of drivers and customers not having to share the same physical space, especially during the pandemic and at night.
Vay was founded in September 2018 by von der Ohe, Fabrizio Scelsi, and Bogdan Djukic. The team previously worked at companies such as Tesla, Google, Waymo, Zoox, Skype, Argo, Amazon, and Uber. The company has raised more than $30 million in Series A funding from leading European venture capitalists, including Atomico, Creandum, LaFamiglia, System.One, Visionaries Club, and Signals. Business angels Patrick Pichette, Cristina Stenbeck, Qasar Younis, and Formula 1 champion Nico Rosberg have also invested. The company has offices in Berlin, Germany, and Portland, Ore. For more details on the company, visit its website here.