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Self-Driving Cars: Start-up to Offer a Retrofit Full-Autonomy Kit for Business Fleets

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author photo by Russ Heaps September 2016

In the race to self-driving cars, autonomous technology is exploding like a shotgun blast from scores of sources. Previously unknown players burst onto the scene almost weekly, offering new technology and fresh ideas. One such organization is Drive.ai, a Silicon Valley start-up.

Basically the "ai" in its name says it all: artificial intelligence. At the core of its work is the development of deep-learning software that will gather data, then draw on that data to make choices as new situations present themselves. In other words, Drive.ai is striving toward autonomous technology capable of learning, adapting and growing on its own.

One of the elephants in the room of developing self-driving cars has been how autonomous technology will deal with an all-new experience for which it hasn't been programmed. Drive.ai appears to solve this problem.

Although operating under the industry's radar for more than a year, Drive.ai recently surfaced with the news that it'd begin real-world testing of a kit and software that can be retrofitted onto any car or truck, transforming it into an autonomous vehicle (AV).

Talk to Me

Another elephant in the room of autonomous technology is the issue of an AV communicating with surrounding humans, whether they're drivers in human-controlled vehicles at the same intersection or pedestrians. How often do we slow for a pedestrian at the edge of a crosswalk, stop and then wave to them to continue walking? Putting their trust in us, the pedestrian crosses. How can an AV accomplish this task? How are pedestrians to be sure the AV will actually see them, stop and allow them to cross unharmed?

Humans and AVs will need to coexist, which means they must communicate with one another, often non-verbally.

Sign of the Times

An important element of Drive.ai's retrofit kit is a display screen affixed to the vehicle's exterior. Engineered to earn humans' trust, it will alert the people around it to exactly what it's doing. In the crosswalk example, after stopping, a vehicle with Drive.ai's kit would flash a safe-to-cross message on its display. The aesthetics of this contraption on the roof of your Volkswagen Golf might not seem appealing, but it would prove effective.

It's a First Step

AVs will begin somewhere, and most experts believe delivery fleets provide the most logical jump-off point. This would be followed by buses and other route-based vehicles. These are vehicles following a fixed, programmable route.

Drive.ai's focus is to get AVs on the road as quickly as possible, which is why, at this point, it's taking an add-on, rather than an integrated approach. It's a one-size-fits-all kit, instead of working with carmakers developing specific technology for specific models.

What it means to you: If you're one of the people excited about the prospect of self-driving cars, a retrofit kit, like Drive.ai's, might mean you can have an AV years before you otherwise would. The more technology companies working the problem, the sooner and better the results.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Self-Driving Cars: Start-up to Offer a Retrofit Full-Autonomy Kit for Business Fleets - Autotrader