Self-Driving Cars Have a Secret Weapon: Remote Control
“Usually we don’t do this during rush hour,” says Ben Shukman. He’s driving a Lincoln MKZ sedan, trying to exit a gas station driveway and cross four lanes of traffic so he can make a left at the light 20 yards ahead. It’s 5 pm in Palo Alto, and Silicon Valley commuters are crawling home, leaving few gaps between the cars. Finally, the car in the closest lane stops, leaving a space for him. The car in the next lane over does too. Shukman slides in and makes the left.
“Good job, Ben,” says Shai Magzimof, giving a wave of thanks to those gracious humans. He’s sitting in the driver’s seat, while, in a garage miles away, Shukman controls the Lincoln from the kind of setup you’d find in the bedroom of a too-serious fan of racing video games. And he’s showing off the type of remote-control capability that every major player in the nascent world of robotic driving will end up relying on (at least for now) in some form or other.
Phantom Auto Demonstrates First Remote-Controlled Car on Public Roads
Phantom Auto engineer Ben Shukman watches the passing cars carefully before pulling out of the MGM Grand parking lot and onto busy Tropicana Avenue in Las Vegas. Shukman skillfully merges into fast-flowing traffic as we chat about how the uncharacteristic rain here this week has led to an uptick in accidents over the last few days.
But Shukman is not sitting next to me in the driver’s seat of Phantom’s Lincoln MKZ, and he hasn’t felt a drop of rain in weeks. Shukman is remotely controlling the car from Mountain View, Calif., more than 500 miles away.
I rode in a car in Las Vegas that was controlled by a guy in Silicon Valley
Phantom Auto thinks it can help speed things along by working on so-called edge cases—rare situations that are likely to befuddle the vehicles, like very bad weather or unfamiliar obstacles such as a taco truck. (It is not alone in this; Nissan is doing something similar.) The company’s remote drivers, who get training for the purpose, are meant to take over for short distances—a hundred meters or so to get past an obstacle, say—so the car can resume operation solo. The far-flung human operators are currently limited to driving at 25 miles per hour.
Human Control of Self-Driving Cars on Policymakers’ Radar
Some companies, such as Nissan Motor Co., Aptiv Plc and Phantom Auto, are working on remote operator technology that could assuage regulator concerns.
States “want AVs deployed in as safe a manner as possible, and they’re starting to see that remote operation technology is a viable way to fulfill that goal,” Elliot Katz, co-founder of Phantom Auto, told Bloomberg Law.
Phantom, which is demoing its technology at the CES technology trade show in Las Vegas the week of Jan. 8,, says its system allows human operators to remotely access a driverless vehicle, see real-time video of the environment around it, and navigate it in low speed, complex conditions, such as road construction.
Why Self-Driving Cars Will Require a 'God View' Eye in the Sky
While you may not have heard much about teleoperation compared to AI, lidar sensors, and other self-driving tech, industry experts agree that it will be essential to a future of fully autonomous robo-taxis.
In the first demonstration of the technology on public roads, at CES a startup called Phantom Auto showed how a car on the Las Vegas Strip could be remotely controlled by a human operator who was 500 miles away in Mountain View, California.
"An autonomous vehicle might have a system that works 95 or even 99 percent of the time," Phantom CEO Shai Magzimof told IEEE Spectrum. "But that last 1 percent is a very difficult piece of the puzzle to solve. We're here to do that hardest part."
We Want the U.S. to Lead in Driverless Cars. Here’s What Washington Can Do to Help.
This year, CES heavily showcased autonomous vehicles (AV) and connected car technology. Some of the U.S. Chamber’s team got a chance to ride in a remotely-driven vehicle down Las Vegas Boulevard powered by Phantom Auto’s software, which enables a backup driver to take the wheel of the vehicle. In this case, our driver sat at a console in Mountain View, CA. while we comfortably drove around the Las Vegas Strip. Since this was our first time in this kind of connected vehicle, we were incredibly impressed with the technological leaps connected and smart vehicles have made.
Israeli Auto-Tech, Robotics, Photonics Light Up Las Vegas
Other auto-tech companies from Israel at CES this year included Argus Cyber Security, which protects connected cars against hackers; Phantom Auto, which allows an off-site tele-operator to drive an autonomous vehicle by “remote control” (the company drove a Lincoln MKZ down Las Vegas’s busy Tropicana Avenue with an operator sitting some 500 miles away in Mountain View, California); and Otonomo, which is building a cloud-based ecosystem for sharing car data with third parties – think insurance companies, fleet managers and automakers.
Phantom Auto uses humans to remotely control self-driving cars in a pickle
Self-driving cars might not respond perfectly in every driving situation, which could be deadly, as passengers aren’t likely to be paying attention or able to take over in time. So Phantom Auto has come up with a solution. When the situation gets really tough for a self-driving car, Phantom Auto switches the control to a remote human driver, who can use video game equipment to safely control the vehicle.
Shai Magzimof started the company earlier this year. He had been looking for something to do after he sold his previous startup. That company was Nextpeer,a platform that enabled mobile games to add multiplayer matches. Viber acquired Nextpeer for $9 million in 2015. For Phantom Auto, Magzimof raised money from Maniv Mobility, Wolfson Group, OurCrowd, Tectonic Capital, and Joseph Grundfest.
What’s it like to take a ride when the driver is 550 miles away?
Whether it's terrorists hijacking a loaded tractor-trailer or a professional driver suffering a medical emergency on the highway, the outcome of these events could be catastrophic.
Likewise, the possibility of an out-of-control driverless truck caused by hackers or a computer crash is often cited as a reason the technology will never make its way into the mainstream.
However, a start-up company known as Phantom Auto demonstrated for Fleet Owner its technology that could go a long way toward addressing these security and safety issues.
U.S. Senate Autonomous Vehicle Hearing: Sen. Blumenthal on Teleoperation for Abs
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal asks Zoox CEO Tim Kentley-Klay about teleoperation for autonomous vehicles during a U.S. Senate hearing on automotive innovation on January 24, 2018. Blumenthal highlights Phantom Auto's public teleoperation demonstration at CES.