Mapless AI, a start-up with $225K under its belt, is testing two teleoperated cars as a proof-of-concept car hailing concept at xBridge at the Pittsburgh International Airport. xBridge is the Airport’s 10,000-square-foot incubator of strategic technologies for future deployment. xBridge recently installed a giant algae air purifier and autonomous food delivery robots.
For the Pittsburgh International Airport pilot, Mapless AI outfitted two KIAs with their car-hailing technology. The equipment is minimal and uses a low-profile lightweight rack with cameras and other automotive sensors secured to the car’s roof and wired directly into its computer system.
Jeffrey Kane Johnson, a co-founder of Mapless AI, said the cars are not autonomous in the technical sense, but the company’s technology can turn a regular car into a remote-controlled transport.
“We have remote human drivers performing the dynamic driving task and a proprietary in-vehicle safety system,” said Johnson. “The safety system enables the vehicle to compensate for transient network degradations and to handle emergencies faster than a human could — emergency braking for the sudden appearance of an object or loss of visibility, for example.”
Johnson says the cameras on the cars provide a surround view to their remote operators and assist in immersion. “We also use microphones to transmit audio. Lidar range sensing provides real-time depth measurements to perform safety calculations and ensure the vehicle maintains appropriate distances from its surroundings.”
According to Cole Wolfson, Director xBridge at Pittsburgh International Airport, an airport is like a small city.
“Nearly any industry you can name has a presence here: operations, logistics, retail, food and beverage, infrastructure, sustainability [..],” said Wolfson. “We have the opportunity at PIT to partner with young, cutting-edge companies to give them a real-world operating environment to develop, test, and demonstrate their technologies.”
Wolfson says they get the opportunity to learn what’s possible and determine if and how to integrate those technologies into their operations to benefit the customer experience.
“In the case of Mapless AI, there are myriad possibilities for teleoperated fleet management that could deploy on the airport campus and in partnership with airport operators such as rental car agencies,” said Wolfson.
“In the future, users could hail a vehicle like they would call an Uber or a Lyft,” said Johnson. “We pilot the vehicle to them, and then they get in the driver’s seat and drive the vehicle to the terminal curbside and drop themselves off. At that point, we retake control of the vehicle and pilot it to its next destination.”
Johnson says as far as the users are concerned, it’s just a typical car that shows up when they need it and leaves when they’re done.
“We can also do useful things, like remember where they hailed a vehicle, so if they hail from a parking lot, we can provide navigation directly back to their parking spot the next time they hail,” said Johnson. “Our future deployments at airports or in other environments will mimic premium rental features or expand the scope of carsharing to larger areas in cities.”
Johnson the company wants to enable existing car fleets and vehicles to be used more efficiently. “What we’re doing has the potential to significantly expand the availability of existing carshare services by enabling fast, cost-effective and direct-to-user vehicle delivery,” said Johnson. “Remote dispatch also allows us to store vehicles in designated areas [..] farther away from valuable downtown curbs and residential areas.”
Johnson says they are working towards making their remote-controlled systems safe and available for general use by 2025.