British startup Imperium Drive says it has begun the first UK trials of Fetch, an on-demand car-hailing service using remote-controlled driverless vehicles. It reportedly combines the instant convenience of ride hailing with the flexibility and low cost of carsharing.
The service enables customers to use an app to summon an unmanned vehicle that is driven by a remote driver to their location. The customer then drives the car to their destination, from where a remote vehicle operator takes over and pilots the car back to base or to the next user. Remote driving technology is already being trialed in other countries, but Fetch is the first application in the UK.
For fleet operators in the carsharing and short-term rental sector, the company claims that remote driving technology can significantly increase revenue per car. It allows them to relocate cars more quickly during periods of high demand, such as rush hour, which is key to maximizing utilization rates. They can also extend the reach of their operations to enable intercity travel, while reducing fleet management costs associated with repositioning cars when rental periods end.
Fetch trials are underway using a variety of vehicle types, from standard saloon cars to electric microcars, each equipped with Imperium Drive’s proprietary remote driving software. The technology, which uses 5G connectivity, enables remote operators to switch between controlling different cars when required. The fleet is currently operating on private routes before the service is extended to include public roads in the next 12 months. The company aims to launch a fully operational remotely operated car-hailing service in the UK in the second half of 2022.
Koosha Kaveh, CEO of Imperium Drive, commented, “For many people, public transport is cheap but inconvenient, while ride-hailing and taxis are convenient but also expensive. Our goal is to make on-demand door-to-door transport more cost-effective and convenient than every alternative, even privately owned cars. There are real environmental benefits too, with the potential to greatly reduce the number of private cars on the road. With Fetch, users hail a car to their doorstep and within minutes can be on their way, driving themselves to their destination in their own time and at their convenience. They don’t even have to worry about parking when they get there.”