There's more to autonomous vehicles than autonomy.
Getting from point A to point B safely is going to require some oft overlooked supporting technologies. So an announcement this week from Phantom Auto and Transdev about incorporating one of those critical technologies represents a significant move toward making autonomous transportation a practical reality.
One of the primary additional support systems for self-driving vehicles is going to be remote control for times when the vehicle fails or encounters a unique situation and the passenger cannot take over. (Nota bene: In the future, many if not most people will not know how to drive.) Phantom has created a video telepresence system for such situations, allowing a remote operator to see and control a vehicle over a cellular connection from hundreds of miles away.
It may sound simple but it's not. Given the bandwidth limitations, all other approaches ranging from companies like Nissan to Waymo have assumed that it would not be possible to reliably control a car remotely with full video view and system feedback. Phantom has managed to do it, giving autonomous vehicles another safety layer.
Transdev, which has significant global expertise in mass transit systems and some solid experience in developing autonomous buses, will be collaborating with Phantom to incorporate the teleoperation technology into Telenav's control centers. It would also open up new opportunities to use Phantom's system in other situations, such as maneuvering empty vehicles in parking lots when they are being serviced or cleaned.
For more about teleoperation, see “When Self-Driving Cars Can't Help Themselves," in The New York Times.