Self-driving cars and their many benefits are still a long way away, but a Berlin-based startup promises an interesting alternative—remote-controlled taxis. Vay plans to debut a fleet of vehicles controlled by remote teledrivers by 2022, claiming that its service could eliminate your need for a personal vehicle and help reduce traffic.
The concept behind Vay is pretty straightforward. Basically, there’s a giant warehouse full of gamers controlling real-world vehicles from behind computer screens. When you order a Vay, one of these gamers (I should be calling them teledrivers) is tasked with navigating it to your pickup location, obeying traffic laws and avoiding jaywalkers along the way.
You then enter and take control of the Vay. That’s right; the gamers don’t drive you around, they just deliver your car. Once you arrive at your location, gamers take control of the Vay and drive it to the next customer.
If this sounds like a bizarre, convoluted, and dangerous way to replace taxis or Uber … yeah, that’s because it is. The benefits to Vay are very unclear. Not only are customers expected to drive themselves to their location, but Vay still has to hire and train people to control its vehicles.
Safety issues are also hard to ignore. Even if Vay’s teledrivers have futuristic lag-free computers, there’s no way that they drive with the same awareness or response time of a real driver. Unsurprisingly, Vay tries to waive these concerns with automatic emergency braking systems and other AI-powered safety features.
To Vay’s credit, its unique ride-sharing concept may become the norm over the next decade. Experts believe that fully-realized autonomous vehicles will drive from person to person as needed, creating a ride-sharing network and eliminating personal vehicles. In the meantime, self-driving cars may require remote operation (or observation, at least) when a human driver isn’t behind the wheel.
But we’re stuck in 2021, so Vay relies entirely on teledrivers. The company is currently testing its service in Berlin and plans for a European and U.S. rollout next year. If everything works out, Vay could secure a spot in the ride-sharing market while it waits for self-driving cars to become more reliable.