Constant evolution of transportation networks in terms of size and load puts ever higher demands on the drivers. Most commutes are of “drive alone” mode, meaning that there there is only the driver in the vehicle, and that the vehicle is dedicated to transporting only one person. At the same time almost a third of all commutes are work related, as can be seen in this commuting statistical analysis for the United States by Marcus Bowman.
Most of work related commutes do not bring any enjoyment to life, and quite to the contrary increase levels of stress, since the ever increasing productivity demands require people to arrive at the destination in unreasonably fast times. Everybody is hurrying somewhere, and this is still not enough. So hands free mobile calls are commonplace, as people are trying to use the tedious time of commuting to their advantage, getting at least something done during the trip. The autonomous vehicles are still in the future. All the ideas for vehicle autonomy, including the one on Boxoid, require major changes to be implemented either in vehicle technology or transportation infrastructure. This idea is much more rapid in terms of time to market.
Currently implemented technologies enable digital control of all vital vehicle functions. Lights and turn signals, acceleration and breaks, steering and handling, can all be controlled digitally, without the need of physical interaction from the driver. Further more, video parking assistants with integrated proximity sensors are even more common than digital steering control. Since all of the required technologies don’t only exist, but are also implemented in the mainstream production vehicles, just a simple add-on can revolutionize the way people commute.
This idea is about a service that transforms the driver into a passenger, which enables to use the commute time in other ways than wasting mental and physical energy to concentrate on driving. The commuter will be able to do anything during the trip, including work, sleep, play with kids in the back seat, eat and whatever else is possible to do in a car, without any need to interfere with vehicle interfaces. The only exception being the start and the end of the trip.
Service would consist of central command and control center full of “remote drivers”, or people who drive for a living. Each of the working desks would be a car simulator cockpit, that can remotely control any vehicle using the service.
From the remote side, any person that would like to use a service, will have a package installed in their car to allow that car to be driven remotely. This package would contain:
- Cryptography device with an OTP variant implementation (not unlike online banking systems) that would restrict the remote control to authorized trips only.
- Vehicle remote control wired to the networking device.
- Video sensors from every side, just like the video parking sensors, that enable to see in any direction, covering all 360 degrees of field of view.
- Networking device, securely communicating with command and control center via the Internet using IMT-2000 wireless (also known as 3G)
- Communication touch panel displaying the trip source, destination, current location, system status, enabling the passenger to check the status, change destination, take over control, and basically communicate with remote driver just like with the normal driver.
- Seat pressure indicator, to enable remote monitoring of car occupancy
- Sensor relay, to enable remote monitor of vehicle vital signs like oils status, tire pressure, and everything that is normally available to a driver via the instrument panel.
- GPS module relaying price vehicle positioning.
- Six microphones around the car to enable remote driver to hear anything that is heard inside the car.
This package would be installed in every vehicle of an interested customer and would allow the customer to use the service for then on.
A working father would come to a vehicle with installed package prepared for his daily routine commute, dropping off kids at kindergarten and then getting to work. Normally this trip takes about an hour and a half. The first half an hour takes to get kids to kindergarten, then about an hour to get to work and park there. He puts his kids into car seats and buckles them, and then he himself gets in to the back seat, to spend the trip time with the kids, instead of loosing his nerves paying attention to the road. The communication touch panel greets him with a large “Where would you like to go today?” button, that he lightly pushes. Almost instantly the first free remote driver from the command and control center answers him “Good morning Mr. Father, where would you like to go today?”, the father answers in voice “Hi, I’m going to drop off kids at the kindergarten at the Address 1 and then get to work at Address 2″. “Very well sir” answers the remote driver, “Could you please buckle up as well?”, since the seat belt indicators are remotely conveyed as well, and the remote driver saw that the seat where father was sitting was not buckled up (Father was easily identified by weight, since he is heavier than the children).
Father buckles up while the trip appears on the communication panel, with the car icon indicating current position, the kindergarten stop and the final destination at work, including the time predictions not unlike the all familiar data from Garmins and TomToms. The ignition starts the engine and the father in the back seat starts talking to his kids about surrounding trees, flying birds, and the weather. 360 degree video relay enables remote driver to easily asses the situation, and the car slowly rears out of the drive way onto the main road, the gear shifts to drive and the car starts normally accelerating forward. The trip to the kindergarten takes just about half an hour as usual, but the father feels full of energy and refreshed, since he was spending all this time with kids and not loosing it behind the wheel. The kids also feel more connected to their father. Remote driver lightly parks the car nearby the kindergarten and announces this to the father “Here we are sir, I’ll wait for you to tell me when to continue our trip”. “Thanks” replies the father and he steps out to drop off his kids with the teacher. After that father gets back into the back seat and says “OK, I’m ready, but let’s stop at the McDonald’s for breakfast on the way”. “Will this one be OK with you?” replies the remote driver while communication touch panel displays the new “via” point on the map. “Sure, let’s go” replies the father and the car pulls out of the parking lot while the father pulls out his Blackberry and the notebook and starts opening up emails and begins to work.
After a while, the remote driver pulls into a drive-through and stops with the rear window by the order box. Because he hears everything said to the father, he knows when the clerk orders to “pay at the next window” and when he needs to pull to the next window to get his order. 360 degree video really comes in handy in such situations, and all the car movements are very precise. Just in case, after the father receives his breakfast order from the clear the remote driver asks “All done sir?”. “Yes, thanks, let’s go” replies the father and the car accelerates away from the drive-through and onto it’s standard route to work.
After about twenty minutes of driving in and out of rush traffic, the car slows down and comes to a halt on the shoulder. “What is it?” asks the father. “The police are stopping us” replied the driver. “Oh OK” says the father. He pulls down his window and waits for policeman to come to him, while chewing on his breakfast, pressing Blackberry buttons with his oiled fingers and navigating the PowerPoint slides, Excel sheets and PDF documents with the touchpad. Basically continuing working. Policeman comes and greets the father “Good morning sir, standard road check, may I see your license and registration”. “This car is driven remotely” answers the father. The police being informed of such thing before hand distributed this information to all the traffic cops, and so the policeman knows that the only thing he can check is by requesting all the relevant details from the Remote Driver’s Association based on the remote driver ID and the time of encounter. So he leans to look through the front left side window at the communication touch panel, where remote driver ID is clearly visible, since it is an OLED display and the viewing angles are not restricted. Policeman writes down the remote driver ID and bids farewell to the father “Thank you sir, have a nice day”. “Bye” replies the father, and since the remote driver heard all that thanks to good microphone coverage, he accelerates away to father’s work.
Rush hours, changing lanes, overtaking, stopping, accelerating, turning, all the while father works uninterrupted. Father might have taken a nap during the trip, but today is a busy day and he needs to get things done before he gets into the office. The only thing he notices is when he pulls into an underground car park. Because of good IMT-2000 coverage, there is no problem with parking underground. Even if it was the problem with the coverage, the remote driver would simply had to say that the trip has to end here and the father would take over control, placing himself into the driver’s seat. But this time, the father only notices that he is already at work when the driver announces him “Here we are sir. Is that going to be all?”. “Yes, thanks” replies the father. A very simple star rating system appears on the communication touch screen, along with the usual “Thank you for using Remote Driver’s Association” and “Please rate your trip”. The father really didn’t have any complaints, so he presses five stars and the rating is automatically processed. He clears his suit from the breakfast crumbs, packs up his notebook and takes out the car keys to lock the car. Now that was a time well spent, he thought when locking his car.
Responsibilities and Fail Safe mechanisms
In case of an accident, the responsibility is taken exactly like with the normal driver. In case of driver error, the remote driver assumes the responsibility. In case of technical error, the Remote Driver’s Association assumes the responsibility. In case of the mechanical failure in the car, well, we have all seen Fight Club.
There is always a chance of something going wrong with the service, therefore following fail safe mechanisms will be implemented.
Fails Safe #1: Latency Check.
End to end latency of video and remote driver feedback will be continuously evaluated. Since the mean response time of human being under similar conditions are around 640ms, every remote driver will be tested to have much better reaction time – under 400 ms. Additional 100ms will be allowed for end-to-end delay incurred by transmission of the signal.
Fails Safe #2: Network error procedure.
In case the network signal is lost, or no signal is received within the required 100ms by the networking device installed in the vehicle, the network error procedure will be activated. This will be a semi-intelligent hardwired procedure, involving a car coming to a halt at the nearest curb or shoulder, turning on it’s emergency signal and alerting the passenger that the network error has occurred and that the driver should assume manual driving as soon as possible.
Fails Safe #3: Hardwired stop button.
Hardwired red “STOP” button will be installed for unpredictable situations. Passenger can press this button any time to stop the car in the same way as it would stop during “Network error procedure”
Fails Safe #4: Coverage map.
A detailed IMT-2000 coverage map will be used. A trip will not be accepted by the remote driver if it must be routed through a no-coverage area. Alternative detour would be offered, since safety is the priority for this service.
Fails Safe #5: Rating system.
While not a direct fail safe mechanism, rating remote drivers will help management of Remote Driver’s Association to identify problematic drivers before hand and retrain of fire them, avoiding future incidents before they happen.
The service provides access to a personal driver at the cost less than the taxi. Because drivers are shared, the efficiency is very high. Using standard trends and Erlang calculations, a precise number of remote drivers can be on standby at any given time, providing high quality service and response times. Safety is guaranteed by fail safe mechanisms and in case of accidents, the responsibility is taken by remote driver just as in the case of personal driver.