A safety car driver behind the wheel of a remotely-controlled Vay test vehicle in Berlin. The startup has just raised $95 million to bring the service to Hamburg.
Vay plans to bring its remotely-driven cars to the streets of Hamburg, Germany, early next year before bringing the car-sharing service that will deliver a vehicle to your doorstep to the United States. The Berlin-based startup has raised $95 million in a Series B round after two years of testing of its vehicles which are piloted remotely before, and after, a pickup when customers take the wheel.
Vay’s reliance on human drivers sets it apart from the likes of Alphabet’s Waymo, Tesla and Zoox that have faced a challenging, decade-long ride to get a self-driving robotaxi on the road. Thomas von der Ohe, cofounder and CEO of Vay, says using “teledrivers” and cars retrofitted with 360-degree cameras would provide the revenue, and data, to gradually introduce autonomous technology to its service.
Von der Ohe, who used to work at the Amazon-owned robotaxi startup Zoox, also claims the service will be able to undercut ride-hailing apps like Uber by relying on customers to do the bulk of the driving, while a small pool of remote drivers could pilot the electric cars to a parking spot, or the next job.
“We are pursuing a different approach to autonomous driving, which we call a teledrive first approach, and this allows us to launch something much, much earlier,” says von der Ohe. “It’s much cheaper than ride-hailing mainly because you drive in the middle and we don’t have to pay someone [for the entire journey] so we can really bring down the cost to close to urban car ownership.”
Thomas von der Ohe, cofounder and CEO, with one of his fleet of remotely-driven electric vehicles.
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Vay might be able to skip for now some of the expensive, and technical heavy lifting, of using Lidar lasers, radar and cameras to teach an algorithm to drive but relying on a remote driver presents major challenges of its own. The startup’s vehicles are designed to pullover automatically if they lose connection with the control room but the issue of lag delaying reaction times in a busy city centre has plagued other self-driving startups.
“We don’t have the lasers and the Lidar sensors and our base system is very inexpensive and allows us to launch and very quickly scale our service,” says von der Ohe. “This is an industry where a lot of money has been poured into but now with a different approach we hopefully can get to a commercial service very quickly.”
The launch for Vay in the leafy Bergedorf district of Hamburg while ambitious for Europe comes as the main robotaxi players in the U.S. plan a major expansion. Waymo has been running a driverless taxi service in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, since 2019 and recently began taking fares …….