Small Fleet Of Bright Orange, Self-Driving Vans Roll Out In Frisco This July | KERA News

Small Fleet Of Bright Orange, Self-Driving Vans Roll Out In Frisco This July

Jun 13, 2018

One of the nation's first self-driving car services will be coming to North Texas next month. 

California-based Drive.ai has teamed up with the city of Frisco to launch the program. The company says they'll begin with four vehicles available to the roughly 10,000 employees in HALL Park, an office park near The Star in Frisco. The retail and dining area also serves as headquarters for the Dallas Cowboys.

Passengers will be able to hail a ride through a smartphone app, and a bright orange Nissan NV200 van will pick them up.

Safety's a priority 

Sameep Tanden, co-founder and CEO of Drive.ai, says the color of the vehicles is intentional.

“We want to help shape the expectation that this is a self-driving car," he said. "This helps build trust in the environment. This lets people understand that, ‘Hey, perhaps, this is a bad idea to harass these vehicles,’ or ‘Perhaps, it’s a bad idea to do something, like cut it off.'"

Color choice and other safety features could encourage more people to warm up to autonomous transportation. While more people are embracing the technology, a study by AAA shows that 63 percent of Americans report feeling afraid to ride in a fully self-driving vehicle. That's down from 78 percent in 2017, according to AAA.

Tanden says the vehicles have artificial intelligence that allows them to detect and respond to their surroundings.

“There’s motion planning, there’s decision making, there’s control systems," he said. "The complexity is fairly substantial."

The Drive.ai vehicles will have many safety features, Tanden says.
Credit Courtesy of Drive.ai

For extra security, initial trips will have a human in the driver's seat who can take over if needed, according to the Dallas Morning News. The next phase will put the person in the passenger seat to answer any questions from riders. And the final stage will let the cars go on their own with a remote operator, if needed.

"A big part of it is also what we call ‘the telechoice operation center,’" Tanden said. "Three cellular connections that go to a remote operation system where humans are also monitoring them, watching them, helping them if they get stuck and continuing to make the AI system better as that human input is then fed into the vehicle."

The company will expand the car service based on demand and feedback from the community, Tanden says. 

Drive.ai is part of a public-private partnership with Frisco and the Denton County Transportation Authority, among others. It's handling all costs involved in the project, according to The Texas Tribune.

More potential projects 

Frisco isn’t the only North Texas city testing self-driving transportation.

Arlington has been using a driverless shuttle service, transporting passengers around AT&T Stadium and Globe Life Park. The one-year Milo project is scheduled to end in August, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The city says it's ready to take the next step. As the Star-Telegram reported, the Arlington City Council heard a proposal to start another pilot project to place autonomous vehicles in the city’s entertainment district this fall.

"I think this is a huge step we need to take for us to be competitive moving forward," said Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams.

Similar projects could be on the way across the region and state. Last year, Texas was one of 10 states approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation to let companies pilot automated technology in vehicles.