Autonomous vehicles, taking the phrase ‘back seat driver’ to a new level

It was a ride that was intended for visitors to Detroit for the 2020 North American International Auto Show. Journalists from all over the world were supposed to be picked up at the airport, courtesy of the Company FEV North America, taken by a self-driving car and then dropped off in the Motor City. But, COVID took control and slammed on the brakes. 

"While all the weight of the pandemic is still around us, we still had to have the fight and find motivation to say hey, let’s keep on going with this thing and figure out how to keep the company going," said Tom Tasky, Dir. of Intelligent Mobility with FEV North America. 

Pandemic or not, there was a lot of investment in the technology and mindset that innovators have to adapt and overcome. 

"The company scrambled to see how we can work remotely," Tasky said. "The team did a good job and actually took the car home."

With that hard work, the team was able to hone a new craft, remote driving. With this, the driver is no longer in the driver’s seat, or in the car for that matter. 

"The remote control aspect has really taken off," Tasky said. "There is a lot of new opportunities for that and now that we have the time to perfect that technology."

It’s fascinating to experience, and a bit nerve wracking at first.  

"You do rely on the safety driver to have communication, but in the long run it won’t be needed," Tasky said. 

At FEV, they imagine remote driving will revolutionize commercial trucking, farming, Marine Vehicles and life on the road. 

"It’s kind of like road side assistance at the touch of the button," Sherif Matta, an Autonomous Driving and Connectivity Manager for FEV. 

These days, it’s social distancing on steroids. 

"Should there still be fear moving forward, now there are opportunities with tech to put safer mechanisms in place," Tasky said. 

But when you think of a self-driving car, it likely doesn’t include anyone at any wheel. 

"So here we are driving on 75 now and you have relinquished control once again," Matta said. 

Through a series of cameras and constantly updating software, we were able to cruise the highway in a level 3 autonomous vehicle. 

The race to perfect the technology has turned competitors in the auto industry into allies. 

The software can only learn what it’s taught. So, when one autonomous vehicle encounters something it’s never been before, misshapen vehicles bridges, tunnels, etc., it can share that information with others in the industry and adapt.

The hope is for the same autonomous shuttles will be even better equipped to show off at the 2021 Auto Show.