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Monday, August 13, 2018

Ride OS: The Future Of Road Transport Communication

Transport And Tech

Today, technology has been incorporated into every aspect of our lives, from how we shop with companies like Amazon, to how we get around with our cars. Tech innovations are made almost daily, more so in the motoring industry because the companies dominating the industry like the Volkswagen Group have unlimited resources. Some of these revolutionary ideas include:

  • Volkswagen Gesture Control
  • Car-to-X communication
  • Self-driving cars

Volkswagen Gesture Control
With the 2018 Volkswagen Golf, you get a new feature, Gesture Control. Distracted driving still remains the primary cause of road accidents. The 3 seconds it takes to look at your car’s display to change the radio station could easily lead to an accident. In recognition of this, Volkswagen released Gesture Control. With this, with a simple swipe of your hand in front of the display, you can send a set of commands to the vehicle without having to physically touch the display.

Car-To-X Communication
This is a new feature courtesy of Mercedes Benz. To give an illustration, imagine you’re maneuvering a turn, and at the end of the bend, an accident has occurred. This would be useful information to a driver, who’ll then be able to adapt his speed and senses accordingly. 

With this new feature, every car fitted with car-to-x communication will be able to both relay information regarding the situation on the road as well as receive the same. This information is not only gotten from cars fitted with the feature but traffic infrastructure as well. Once the information is received, the same is relayed to the driver both visually on the dashboard as well as audibly.


Self Driving Cars

Change is inevitable, evidenced by the shift from landlines to smartphones, and horse carriages to cars. Now, an even more significant difference is here, the self-driving car. The idea of autonomous machines has not been introduced to the self-driving car but has been around for many years. For instance, when elevators first came out, they had a person who would man the elevator. Today, every single elevator is controlled by just pushing buttons. Also, planes were first only controlled by pilots, but today, autopilot exists, and studies show that more plane crashes have resulted when the pilots are in control as opposed to autopilot.

There have been countless debates on the disadvantages of the driverless car, some even voiced by world renown engineer, Elon Musk. Some of these setbacks include:

  • Moral and ethical issues
  • Legal issues
  • Driver safety

Moral And Ethical Issues
Most drivers have, at least once, been faced with a moral dilemma. A choice of the lesser evil. Take for instance you’re driving a car, and a child jumps onto the road. You can either crash into a bus by swerving or run the child over. A human driver will choose the safer option which is to crash the car, but can the same be said for the self-driving car?

Legal Issues
The self-driving car is no longer in the testing phase, and some have actually been rolled out in several countries, for example, the United States where ride-hailing companies like Uber have begun utilizing this technology.

In the early months of 2018, the first fatal accident caused by a self-driving car was reported. This involved a self-driving Uber, going at 40 miles per hour, which killed a woman cycling in the evening in the state of Arizona. In a nutshell, in such a case, as the law stands, by the classic legal case of Donoghue -vs.- Stevenson, the driver, owed the cyclist a duty of care, and thus he’s to be held responsible. Thus if a driver engages in self-driving mode and an accident occurs, the driver is held liable.

Several issues, however, arise from this position:
  • What if the fault lies with the car manufacturers and not the driver?
  • What if the car is entirely autonomous with no driver? 
  • Who is to be held liable?

Driver Safety
In the United States, a survey carried out by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety revealed that 64% of the drivers in the United States were not comfortable with the idea of having a self-driving car along the same highway as them. This is a concern that has been exhibit worldwide, and the reason why legislators across the globe have been slow to enact more autonomous vehicle (AV) flexible laws.

What Is rideOS

To curb all of these problems associated with the self-driving car, a company called rideOS has risen to the occasion. Assume a few years from now when every single car manufacturer has a self-driving car on the road, and companies like Amazon are using drones to make deliveries. All of these machines may be fitted with sensors and maps for road safety, but they’re all essentially run by different systems. For efficiency, a feature similar to the previously discussed Mercedes Benz car-to-x communication may be embedded into the systems of these cars. However, this is impractical as not every single self-driving car manufacturer will enlist the aid of Mercedes Benz.

For this reason, the only logical solution would be to have every self-driving car linked to the same traffic control system. Once connected, every car would store information and experiences regarding a specific route or a specific trip to a single cloud which would easily be accessed by all the other cars. This is the idea behind rideOS.

rideOS Founders
The company, based in San Francisco, was started by Justin Ho and Chris Blumenberg. While most companies are rushing to release the self-driving car, the 2 are overly enthusiastic about the safety of autonomous vehicles on the roads today. They both, before starting rideOS, had some experience in the development of the self-driving car. They both previously worked for Uber, with Chris heading the Map Services department. Both of them aided Uber in starting and developing its autonomous driving department. Before meeting at Uber, Justin Ho worked with Citadel Investment Group and Chris was a top engineer at Apple. Later on, the 2 were joined by Bill Chen who had previously held a high position at Tesla’s autopilot maps.

How rideOS Works

Simply put, once a fleet of cars is connected to the cloud provided by rideOS, all the cars relay information to each other. This would thus mean that if a car hits a porthole on a particular road, it will transmit this information to the cloud which would easily be accessed by all the other cars. Thus every car will adapt and avoid the porthole on that specific road. In the words of Justin Ho, one of the founders, “We're building the next generation air traffic control system for ground transport to help ride-hailing companies, OEMs, mobility startups, and governments bring fleets of self-driving vehicles to the world safely,"

Air Traffic Control
Thousands of planes are all simultaneously flying at any given time, yet none of them seem to collide. This, they owe to the air traffic control system. Before any flight takes off, information regarding the point of departure, desired destination, estimated time of arrival as well any emergency destinations should any be needed is gathered. This information is then relayed to a specialist who compares the same with other flight plans to discover the safest and fastest route to use.
Unlike planes, however, each self-driving car will be able to communicate with the other and relay this information in real time. The technology is not only limited to car-to-car communication. Take a ride-hailing company like Uber for example. If Uber were to incorporate this tech, once a customer requests a ride, then the software would be able to determine whether or not a self-driving car will be able to make the trip or not. If the trip proves to be too complicated, then a human driver and not a self-driving car will be sent to pick up the customer.

Services Provided By rideOS

As stated by Justin Ho, rideOS will not only be limited to individual cars but will also be marketable to companies as well as governments. This is owing to the range of services the company provides including: 

  • Calculation of estimated times of arrival
  • Fleet management
  • Trip planning
  • Dispatch

Estimated Time of Arrival
Ride-hailing companies like Uber do provide their customers with estimated times of arrival, but as anyone who’s ever used any of their services would tell you, the times provided are never accurate. This is because their apps are only privy to map information regarding a specific route. With rideOS however, more information is provided, and such information is provided in real time. Thus before calling a taxi, the software will be able to get information regarding your desired route, including traffic or any accidents and suggest a faster route.

The software is not only limited to self-driving cars but also human-driven vehicles as well thus a taxi driver can also utilize this information.

Fleet Management
For a company with a variety of cars, it’s advisable to know where and who has a specific car. The software being developed by rideOS allows each individual car connected to the single network to send in real-time information regarding the particular trip it’s on. This information can thus be used for fleet management, to find out where a specific car has been, and where it’s currently located.

Trip Planning
When planning a trip, most people are often inconvenienced by the route they take, that is, either they come across a closed road or traffic. rideOS’ software is capable of relaying all this information to you before embarking on a trip, provided a car linked to the same network has used the same route previously.

Dispatch
This software will mainly be useful to companies as well as governments. For instance, when a customer uses a ride-hailing service, and the car picking them up is involved in an accident, this car will be able to send in this information at which point another car will be sent to them. As a customer, you’ll thus be relieved of the hustle of having to call yet another cab to pick you up and being billed twice for the same trip.

For governments, police administration to be specific, this software will also be useful. For instance, an accident occurs. Any civilian car using the same route will be able to relay this information. In the event the police cars are also linked to the same network, they will be able to pick up this information, rush to the scene and clear up the traffic build up.

rideOS Funding And Partnerships

Thus far, rideOS, a company which was started about a year ago, has been able to get a sum total of 34 million dollars from various investors and partnerships. These investors include:

  • Next47
  • Sequoia Capital
  • Autonomic

Next47
Next47 is a subsidiary company of the tech giant Siemens. It’s more of funding as well as a catalyst company as it not only provides start-ups with the funding they need but also, through the various connections Siemens has, connects tech entrepreneurs with others from all over the globe. This exposure helps in broadening the breadth of ideas and imagination a tech start-up company may have.

How will rideOS thus benefit from partnering with Next47:

  • Access to more capital funding
  • Access to global infrastructure especially during testing
  • Access to expertise on autonomous vehicles

In the words of Lak Ananth, who stands the Managing Director of Next47, “rideOS represents an essential part of the next-generation mobility stack, connecting the software, hardware, and infrastructure that are necessary to deploy self-driving technology at scale. Digital tools and devices like rideOS' mobility platform will support to change the transportation aspect in cities across the globe, leading to a new era of sustainability and efficiency. We believe our investment in rideOS and the power of Siemens behind us will help accelerate progress towards this goal."

Sequoia Capital
Sequoia Capital is an American based firm dedicated to venture capitalism. The firm mainly focuses on the tech industry, and through its efforts, currently controls over 1 trillions of dollars of the US stock market. Over the years, they have invested in and eventually helped to grow a series of companies including:

  • PayPal
  • Apple
  • Dropbox
  • Google
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • PicsArt
  • Tumblr
  • Whatsapp
  • Yahoo

rideOS was Sequoia’s very first investment in an American company dealing with the self-driving car technology. In rideOS’ first Series A funding which ended up raising a total of 9 million dollars, Sequoia Capital was the main investor, and this earned Mike Vernal, who is a partner at the company, a seat at the board of directors. With Sequoia Capital’s vast resources, rideOS hopes to branch out and develop their program even further.

Autonomic
Autonomic is a subsidiary company of Ford which focuses on a “Transportation Mobility Cloud”. Simply put, this is an open network, available to, among others, the following:

  • Other motor vehicle manufacturers
  • Ride-hailing companies

Through this network, Ford hopes to connect vehicles all over, and this fits in perfectly with rideOS’ cloud through which information is stored and relayed to other vehicles regarding various routes. The following statement was made by Gavin Sherry, who is Autonomic’s CEO, “Autonomic's connection with rideOS is the natural next step toward stimulating the creation of safe and sustainable self-driving fleets. We share a vision of a future where cities' transportation networks are fluid and connected via large-scale infrastructure. By integrating with rideOS' single routing engine and accompanying suite of services, Autonomic is able to provide customers with technology to enable self-driving fleets and connected vehicles.”

Conclusion

The self-driving car is a specific piece of tech that’s already taking the world by storm. However, there are very many concerns surrounding the technology, chief among which is its safety features. To curb this, rideOS has a platform that allows for smart communication between both autonomous vehicles as well as human-driven vehicles. This means that all the vehicles on the road will be linked through a single network which will then increase road safety.

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