The taxi business still has many good years ahead of it. Because apart from a few American cities that allow experimentation with driverless cars, the universal rule that every vehicle must be placed under the control of a human being is maintained. “Unless the law specifies whether the driver should go in the vehicle,” said Enn Laansoo, founder of Elmo Rent. Therefore, this car-sharing company, founded in 2013 in Estonia, took the lead control your Nissan Leaf and Renault ZOE remotely, to deposit them at the address indicated by their customers. The aim is to “revolutionize the short-term rental of electric vehicles”.
No need to worry about the parking meter: at the end of the rental, the car leaves alone for its next customer
Elmo is not alone in this promising niche. In England, for example, Imperium Drive showed January 2022 as a “supervisor sitting in front of the computer screen”Can take control of a small electric quadricycle several tens of kilometers away, to drive it to the address indicated by the person reserving its use.
The principle followed by Elmo is exactly the same. “Once they arrive at their destination, the customer who rents one of our electric cars means the end of their journey through our app,” explains Enn Laansoo. “Then a message is automatically sent to one of our supervisors, who takes over and drives the vehicle to his next tenant, with no one behind the wheel.”
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The result is an important advantage for the city’s customer, who “does not have to worry about finding an authorized parking space” when returning the vehicle. This flexibility of use is at the heart of Elmo’s strategy, which aims to make car rental “as easy, convenient and fast as booking a taxi or VTC.” The race should be even less expensive, because “unlike a taxi, it is the customer who drives the vehicle himself to the destination of his choice,” says Enn Laansoo. “He the remote control only intervenes between two rentalsto move the vehicle from one customer to another and maximize its occupancy rate. ”
Remote driving already exists: it takes over when the autonomous car loses its axles
The project is less crazy than it sounds. Because the technology implemented to take remote control of a vehicle already exists. It is mainly used by the pioneers of robotaxi a fly in aid of artificial intelligence, when the strict application of the rules of the traffic code leads to the complete stopping of the vehicle. For example, when approaching a work area, the supervisor intervenes to authorize the vehicle to cross a continuous white lane and bypass the obstacle.
“The diversity of sensors, the sophistication of the software and the computing power required for remote driving are significantly lower than for autonomous driving,” confirms Enn Laansoo. A battery of six cameras installed on the Nissan Leaf prototype is enough to give the supervisor a fairly wide view of the road, signs and obstacles. The software developed internally by Elmo allows the vehicle to reproduce the gestures that the supervisor prints on the steering wheel and pedals of the video games with which it is equipped.
Remote driving works wherever 4G is taken
The volume of computer data exchanged between the operator and the vehicle is low enough to travel through the 4G data network. “The advantage is that this network offers excellent coverage of most cities in Europe,” says Enn Laansoo. The threshold of the trap is the gray area, which Elmo avoids equipping each of his vehicles with two SIM cards, in order to trust a second connection if the first one fails. “In case of total loss of connection, the car stops after 5 seconds,” says the engineer. But the probability of this eventuality would only be “1% to 2%”, at the end of a long test campaign conducted since August 2021 on the roads of Estonia. Always with a supervisor on board the vehicle, willing to take over from his remote companion, in case of system failure.
It is also true that the demonstration in the heart of Paris was less fluid and convincing than expected. The six cameras transmitted terribly pixelated images and sequels, painful to follow. Obviously, the connection speed was low, in the narrow streets of the 8th district. The voice instructions of the on-board companion were not too much to help the operator pull the Nissan Leaf out of the mouse hole where it was parked, tucked between a van and a scooter.
From then on, navigating the high boulevards full of cars, scooters, buses, and roadblocks meant little difficulty. “The lower the average traffic speed, the easier the task of the remote supervisor,” confirms Enn Laansoo, overturning this received idea: “5G will improve image resolution but barely its latency, which is already very low, with only 50 to 200 milliseconds in 4G.
About 3,000 to 5,000 euros to make a car compatible with remote driving
Two days earlier, Enn Laansoo and his team had demonstrated their system in Toulouse, on the occasion of the 2022 edition of the European Intelligent Transport Congress (ITS). Aim, seduce car fleet managers and short-term rental companies, with the promise of reducing operating costs. “The cars in our Elmo fleet only park 40% of the time, compared to an average of 95% of Mr. Elmo’s car. and Mrs. Everyone. It is possible to further reduce this downtime by delivering our cars home and removing the parking restriction. The less restrictive the rent, the more frequent it will be. ”
Another possible source of income mentioned by Elmo, charging during the rental function as a “parked parking lot”, asking the remote supervisor to drive the car to a less expensive parking lot.
From the first days of July 2022 and in a single agglomeration first, the Estonian authorities will authorize Elmo to drive twenty Nissan Leaf at a distance. without any supervisor on board. About six months later, Elmo intends to return to France to present the first concrete lessons learned. “Then we will know, for example, how many operators have to mobilize during peak hours and how many during off-peak hours,” promises Enn Laansoo. Also by the end of the year, technicians will have completed the installation of their technology in some of the Renault ZOE, which account for about a third of the fleet of 140 Elmo rental cars. A widely used model in France, which could help Elmo convince a French company pay the operating license of its technology.