British start-up Imperium Drive has announced the launch of Fetch, a new on-demand car-hailing service using remote-controlled driverless vehicles. The solution will first be available in Milton Keynes, UK, with the firm planning to roll out the service across the UK in the future to connect urban areas and key transport interchanges, such as airports.
Following 18 months of extensive testing, customers can now hire a car through the Fetch app, stating when they need it and for how long. An electric vehicle, which is remotely controlled by an operator, is then delivered to them. The customer then drives the car themselves to their destination and when the rental period is up, the remote vehicle operator takes over and pilots the car back to base or to the next user.
“It’s driverless but not autonomous – yet,” said Koosha Kaveh, chief executive of Imperium Drive. “There’s still a human involved, but they’re sitting in a control center piloting the vehicle in the same way you would a drone. When fully autonomous, we think this system has the potential to replace private car ownership in the UK.
“Why pay all the costs of having a car on your drive when you can just pay for one to arrive when you need it. For short trips, the service offers the same convenience as a ride-hailing or taxi service, but with the ability to cover greater distances at less than half the cost of services like Uber or Bolt,” Kaveh added.
There are currently four cars in the Imperium Drive fleet, operating within a four-mile radius of the Milton Keynes city center hub. Further regional hubs are planned to enable intercity travel and airport transfers. To ensure the safety of occupants and other road users, the cars have multiple cameras attached to them, giving the operator a 360-degree view, and the operating system uses computer image algorithms to detect anything near the car.
Remote driving technology is already being trialed in other countries, but Fetch is the first commercial application in the world, according to the company. The service represents the first step toward fully autonomous vehicles operating on UK roads, with the company aiming to transition to full autonomy for car deliveries in the next five years.