Remote-controlled taxis will soon be on British roads
A trial for Fetch, a new ride-hailing app, will start in Milton Keynes in 2022
I've already talked on here about a remote-controlled taxi that's under development by a Swiss-based firm that, whilst it looks really awesome, is definitely a few years off being ready for production. We won't have to wait for that to become a reality though, as a remote-controlled ride-hailing service will not only be trialled next year, but it'll also be trialled in the UK! The new ride-hailing app is called Fetch and it was developed by British tech start-up Imperium Drive. The service is backed by the UK government and will be offering services in Milton Keynes from 2022.
Users of the service will be able to summon a car via Fetch's app, which will then be delivered to the user's location by a remote driver. The remote driving system is enabled by using the 5G mobile phone network, which can switch the remote operator between different vehicle as required. After that point, the user will drive the vehicle themselves to their destination. By using this approach, Fetch reckons it can seriously cut down costs compared to other services; it claims that fees to the user could be less than half of the cost of traditional ride-hailing services such as Uber, Lyft or Bolt. The company is aiming to eventually transition to fully automated vehicle deliveries, with remote-controlled deliveries being the first step on the journey towards that.
A driver using Fetch's remote driving system (Image: Fetch)
What if there are problems with the system? Well, Imperium Drive claims that there are sufficient failsafes in the system for them not to require a backup driver sitting inside the car. Whilst that may not make every motorist on the road feel 100% safe sharing that space with a car that's being remotely piloted, it should at least reduce the risk of a serious incident happening whilst a car is being delivered.
"For fleet operators in the car sharing and short-term rental sector, remote driving technology can significantly increase revenue per car," says Imperium Drive. "They can relocate cars more quickly at periods of high demand, such as during rush hour, which is key to maximising utilisation rates. They can also extend the reach of their operations to enable intercity travel, while reducing fleet management costs associated with repositioning cars when rental periods end".
Is this the next step in ride-hailing, car-sharing and short term car rental? Quite possibly. Being able to deliver cars remotely does add a level of convenience for anyone using the service and (perhaps more crucially) it avoids the typical pitfalls of autonomous vehicles by having a human operator in charge in an office somewhere. Of course, time will tell with the trial whether it's actually successful. If it is, though, it could genuinely change the way things like ride-hailing and car-sharing are operated.