Car reservation

Road-tested driverless car rental service in the UK

02:36

A British firm has started road trials of a new driverless car rental service, hoping to launch full public service by next year. Customers choosing the Fetch program will be able to call their self-driving car on a smartphone app, choosing the type of vehicle and pick-up location.

“Our service allows a car to be dropped off at your doorstep,” says Koosha Kaveh, co-founder and CEO of Milton Keynes-based company Imperium, which develops the Fetch app. “You drive it and you don’t even have to park it. The car goes away on its own once you’re done with it.”

Many big brands such as Uber, Google and Tesla have also developed driverless cars. But some of those trials have stalled due to safety concerns, including a fatal collision with a pedestrian in the United States in 2028.

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There are similar safety concerns in the UK, with a recent YouGov poll showing that 70% of the British public would be wary of driverless cars. But Kaveh says his plan can overcome these security issues by always maintaining human supervision.

“A human can sit behind a set of controls and drive cars remotely,” Kaveh explains. “So we’re starting with that and slowly building the autonomy of our technology, with the goal of achieving full self-driving in five years.”

Imperium Drive aims to make driverless cars available to customers in 2023./Kitty Logan/CGTN Europe

Imperium Drive aims to make driverless cars available to customers in 2023./Kitty Logan/CGTN Europe

The company also plans to include a backup pilot during the initial launch phase. The vehicle itself is a normal electric passenger car fitted with cameras, antennas and modems for remote communication.

All of this, Kaveh says, also helps improve security. “Remote driving, with the help of technology, can be made safer than normal driving in a vehicle,” he says. “And the reason is that we still have blind spots in our normal driving.

“We don’t have them in remote driving, because in our technology we have four cameras that cover 360-degree views at all times. And we have computer vision algorithms running on those cameras that are always ready to detect any danger.

After the test drives are complete, the next test will be the public response. But Imperium says it already has a waiting list of customers keen to try out this new driverless technology on the streets of Milton Keynes.