Drivent, an autonomous driving technology startup, announced on May 8 that it has been certified to test self-driving vehicles in the state of Washington, along with market frontrunners like Waymo, NVIDIA and Torc Robotics. With that, Drivent leaves the stealth mode it has operated in for three years since its inception, and has outlined the technologies it now brings to the autonomous driving space.
Wes Schwie, Drivent’s co-founder, explained how the startup seeks to expand the horizon of the autonomous driving market by working on technology that will improve adoption levels and reduce the prevailing skepticism over autonomous driving technology among the public.
The lukewarm response to the technology has largely been shaped with a lopsided understanding of what self-driving entails, as many believe it would mean professional drivers will lose their jobs and lead to accidents caused by erroneous driving judgment. Eric Wengreen, Drivent’s co-founder, believes that it is critical for the industry to focus on developing technology that overcomes such non-collision barriers to adoption and give a facelift to the reception of self-driving vehicles.
“Many talented engineers have focused their efforts on the primary barrier to mass adoption – avoiding collisions. Instead, we took a completely different approach and focused our work on the full user experience,” said Schwie. “We continually ask ourselves how we can make autonomous vehicles more accessible, efficient and safe for the everyday user.”
Drivent’s proprietary technology will be crucial for the future of driving automation, as it includes fire protection, communication systems and features to optimize the user experience. The startup expects its technology to be used in self-driving vehicles when they are deployed en masse across the world.
In a statement, Drivent described how fire-related injuries and accidents on the road are far too common in the U.S., with approximately 168,000 vehicles catching fire annually while driving. Drivent’s technology can detect fire in an autonomous vehicle and force the vehicle to pull over and allow passengers to get out of the vehicle before any mishap occurs.
Another issue with autonomous vehicles is that it is hard to define who would be accountable in case of a road incident. If, for example, a police officer pulls over a vehicle, he would have to know who to speak with, which is unclear in the case of a self-driving vehicle. Drivent’s technology solves this problem by connecting the officer with a vehicle representative located at a centralized call center, trained to handle and clear up situations that arise on the road.
SAE Level 4 autonomous vehicles are on the precipice of being commercially viable, with Schwie expecting them to be on the highways by 2021. “To me, this industry is like a pot of water that’s about to boil. There are many brilliant minds working in this space and lots of companies eager to make substantial capital investments. When you combine brilliance with resources, amazing things happen quickly,” he said.
Schwie agreed that the biggest roadblock to adoption will be public perception. “Most people’s knowledge of self-driving vehicles is rooted in media stories that gather the biggest following. The right question is not whether autonomous vehicles are perfect, but rather whether autonomous vehicles are safer than human drivers. Hopefully, people can appreciate that technology is never perfect on day one,” he said.