- Drive.ai on Monday launched its autonomous ride-hailing service in the Dallas suburb of Frisco, TX. A six-month pilot will transport passengers within a geofenced area.
- The cars will run with a human safety driver, but Drive.ai hopes to transition to a chaperone in the passenger seat, and eventually to passenger-only rides.
- The bright orange cars have four LED screens to communicate to pedestrians and other drivers what the autonomous vehicles (AVs) are doing, a tool to make others on the road more comfortable with autonomous cars. The screens will display four messages: "Waiting" and "Crossing" when stopped at a crosswalk; "Going" when the vehicle begins moving; "Entering/Exiting" when a person is getting in or out of the car; and "Human Driver" when it is in manual mode.
The service — which was teased in a May announcement — follows more than six months of tests in Frisco, including some with no driver present. That has given the company extensive data on the geofenced area where the service will run during the pilot period, and has allowed it to engage the community, and to gradually introduce the app that will offer complimentary on-demand rides.
Comfort with autonomous vehicles has wavered since an Uber test vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, AZ in March. A survey from HTNB Corporation in June found that 59% of respondents did not think AVs were as safe as human-driven cars, and 55% said they would not ride in one today.
Using the LED screens to clearly state what the Drive.ai cars are doing is meant to replace the spoken or nonverbal signals that drivers give each other, and help everyone be more familiar with the car’s actions, especially as they move away from having a safety driver. It will also help increase safety, as pedestrians and other drivers can be more cautious around the bright orange vehicles.
Ride-sharing has also been a key step for many auto companies looking to introduce autonomous vehicles — Waymo has been operating in Phoenix, Lyft and NuTonomy have partnered in the Boston area and Uber plans to resume its trials in Pittsburgh soon. It’s a way to get people in the cars without sticking them behind a wheel, eliminating responsibility while still showing consumers how the technology would work.
Frisco, meanwhile, seems excited about the opportunity to have the pilot running for at least six months in the fast-growing suburb. In a May statement, Mayor Jeff Cheney said the city "is recognized as a leader in using ‘smart,’ innovative traffic technologies" and added that it would help get people around "one of our most vibrant commercial areas."