Self-driving car companies promise a lot of positive changes, but the most intriguing is greater safety. Autonomous cars hint at a future without car accidents, but we’re not quite there yet.
An Uber automated vehicle caused the first pedestrian death related to an automated vehicle in Arizona in March. Other recent self-driving car accidents from Tesla and Google cars have occurred as well, even after having driven millions of miles (billions, in Tesla’s case) mostly without a hitch.
Autonomous vehicle startup Drive.ai doesn’t have all the answers when it comes to safer self-piloting cars, but the company does have one or two ideas.
Drive.ai makes use of artificial intelligence to help cars drive on their own. While you won’t see a Drive.ai car going off-road anytime soon, they will be coming to Frisco, Texas — the first public deployment of self-driving cars in the state, a spokesperson for the company said.
Along with some of the standard tech you’d find on a driverless vehicle, Drive.ai cars also come equipped with something simple, but useful: screens. On the outside of the car — one on the hood, one on the back and one on each side — screens communicate with pedestrians near the car what its next moves are.
“We’re focused on what it means to be safe beyond having a car that drives really safely,” Conway Chen, Drive.ai’s VP of business strategy, said in a phone interview. “Our approach to safety is people first, but not just passengers. It includes other motorists and even pedestrians.”
In one video, Drive.ai shows the screen in action on the outside. Its latest video showcases the inside: a car driving through Texas with the driver seat empty. The view at the bottom right depicts how the car sees the world.
The screens are one part of Drive.ai’s safety plan, for Chen the other part is striking deals. “We’re not experts in knowing the city’s needs and challenges,” Chen said. “The cities we’ve worked with offer detailed data around every single accident that’s occurred. We use this data when planning the route. For example, we can make sure not to pick up or drop off at intersections known for a lot of accidents.”
According to Chen, Drive.ai joined forces with multiple partners to make the Frisco program a reality, from elected officials to people in the city’s traffic department and more.
Drive.ai’s competition (Uber, Lyft, Google, Tesla) have name recognition that the company won’t be able to compete against for a while. But ideas like the use of screens and agreements to setup with local leaders may help them compete with the big names in automated driving. “We’re taking a different approach by working closely with cities and building toward a longer vision that could very well benefit autonomous vehicles everywhere,” Chen said. “This is where we’re starting but it’s not where it’s ending.”