A car rental service that delivers driverless vehicles to customers has been launched in Milton Keynes. The car-hailing system, by British start-up Imperium Drive, allows customers to hire a car using the Fetch app. An electric vehicle, which is remotely controlled by an operator, is then delivered to them.
The customer then drives the car themselves to their destination, which must be in central Milton Keynes, and when the rental period is finished, the remote vehicle operator takes over and pilots the car back to base or to the next user.
The service has been launched after an 18-month pilot scheme in Milton Keynes, completing more than 1,000 miles (1,609km) of journeys without a single collision, Imperium Drive said.
There are four cars in the Imperium Drive fleet, operating within a four-mile radius of Milton Keynes city centre.
Imperium Drive said it is planning to launch the service in other regional hubs to enable intercity travel and airport transfers. To ensure the safety of occupants and other road users, the cars have multiple cameras attached to them, giving the operator a 360-degree view, and the operating system uses computer image algorithms to detect anything near the car, said Imperium.
The system is driverless but not yet autonomous, said Koosha Kaveh, chief executive of Imperium Drive. “There's still a human involved, but they're sitting in a control centre piloting the vehicle in the same way you would a drone,” he said. “When fully autonomous, we think this system has the potential to replace private car ownership in the UK. Why pay all the costs of having a car on your drive when you can just pay for one to arrive when you need it. For short trips, the service offers the same convenience as a ride-hailing or taxi service, but with the ability to cover greater distances at less than half the cost of services like Uber or Bolt.”
Remote driving technology is already being trialled in other countries, but Fetch is the first commercial application in the world, said Imperium Drive. The service represents the first step towards fully autonomous vehicles operating on UK roads, with the company aiming to transition to full autonomy for car deliveries in the next five years.
The UK Fetch trial was backed by private investment and supported by Milton Keynes Council, with funding also provided by the Government's '5G Create' initiative.
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