Just under two months after it announced a partnership with the City of Arlington, Texas to pilot its driverless car tech, startup Drive.ai is broadening deployment to include every resident, employee, and visitor in the city. Starting today, anyone can hail a self-driving ride within one of several geofenced community office buildings, special event venues, hotels, public amenities, and retail and dining complexes in the city.
It’s the first launch of its kind in Texas, newly appointed CEO Bijit Halder told VentureBeat in a phone interview. And it follows on the heels of Drive.ai’s summer debut in Frisco, Texas, where it did 107 total rides in its first week of availability. Since then, Drive.ai has completed over 1 million simulated miles in the state.
“Our partnership with the City of Arlington is a testament to Drive.ai’s ability to develop not only cutting-edge AI technology, but also self-driving services that solve the most pressing transportation problems facing communities today,” Halder said. “As we continue to scale our deployments, we are committed to closely collaborating with governments, local authorities, and other organizations so that we can put forth self-driving programs that make a real and positive impact on people’s daily lives.”
When service kicks off today and Saturday between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., Drive.ai’s three-car fleet will transport riders to and from two pro sports stadiums, an amusement park (Six Flags over Texas), Arlington’s convention center, and other popular destinations. From October 20 on, the hours of operation will expand to between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, with a special route operating during Dallas Cowboys games between AT&T Stadium and the CentrePoint office complex.
Drive.ai will also offer limited evening and nighttime service, Halder said.
“[That was one] of our learnings [from] Frisco,” he said. “We were running normal weekly service, [but] the need of people in Arlington was [such that] doing different times made more sense.”
With new routes came new challenges. Drive.ai’s engineers worked to ensure the self-driving Nissan NV200 vans could handle night conditions as deftly as congested lunchtime traffic, Halder said. And they tested them thoroughly around Arlington’s stadiums during game days, when scores more pedestrians than usual are out and about.
As in Frisco, passengers will hail Drive.ai’s self-driving cars — which travel at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour on public roads with two safety operators — with a smartphone app or from one of several sidewalk kiosks.
“You can enter your name and number to hail a ride,” Halder said. “You don’t need the mobile app.”
Drive.ai’s autonomous vans use lidar, radar, GPS, cameras, and inertial measurement sensors to collect data about the outside world, which an onboard computer interprets in near-real time. They’re outfitted with screens that display symbols, emojis, and other visual cues that communicate their next course of action — a lane change or right turn on red, for example — to human drivers and pedestrians around them.
If all goes well, Drive.ai’s Arlington fleet might expand to five vehicles at a later date. Its current contract with the city runs through August of next year.
“There’s revenue attached to it,” Halder said, referring to a $343,000 federal grant and seed funding provided by the City of Arlington. “It proves that our solution makes sense.”
To date, Drive.ai has raised more than $77 million from New Enterprise Associates, GGV Capital, Northern Light Venture Capital, HOF Capital, Nvidia GPU Ventures, and others. Andrew Ng, former chief scientist at Baidu and Google Brain and a researcher at Stanford, sits on the company’s board of directors.
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