Halo Car, a start-up that uses third-party operators to deliver rental cars to a customer’s doorstep, has begun self-driving operations in Las Vegas.
Driverless operations mean something different to Halo than it does to autonomous vehicle companies like Cruise or Waymo, because Halo’s vehicles are not capable of self-driving.
The startup’s fleet is equipped with an array of six cameras, modems, antennas and other components to send data back to remote pilots at a Halo operations center. Those pilots then use the video and sensor data that is streamed to remotely control the vehicles. Once a remote driver has delivered a car, they hand over control of the vehicle to the customer and move onto the next vehicle pending remote delivery or collection.
Halo has been delivering vehicles to customers in Las Vegas using teleoperations for about a year, but for safety reasons, a human driver has always been in the front seat. Now Halo cars are delivered to customers with no driver in the vehicle.
According to Anand Nandakumar, founder and CEO of Halo, this is an important step towards Halo’s vision of on-demand vehicles being economically viable.
That said, Halo is not yet at the stage where it reaches positive unit economics. The company will initially still use a remote-controlled car that drives behind the remote-controlled vehicles. The driver of the tail car can stop the remote-controlled vehicle and take over if necessary.
The rear car also acts as a buffer vehicle in case the Halo car needs to stop, preventing a potential rear-end collision with other road users. Halo’s cars will come to a halt in the lane if the system detects an anomaly, meaning they meet Nevada’s minimum risk requirement for AVs, which says vehicles must be able to stop if there’s a failure in the system.
Halo says it will ditch the tail car over the next year based on how current operations perform. According to Nandakumar, this will happen in phases in operation zones and depending on the times of the day.
While Halo may be the first company to successfully deliver remote-controlled electric cars to Las Vegas customers, it’s not the only one to attempt such a feat. In December 2022, Arcimoto, the maker of the three-wheeled electric Fun Utility Vehicles, partnered with Faction to develop EVs that can be delivered to a customer’s hotel through a combination of low-level autonomy and tele-assist technology.
Halo’s announcement Thursday comes after six months of intensive testing and internal training, says Nandakumar. The startup had originally targeted the end of 2022 for a driverless launch, but was postponed to ensure the safety of the system.
“As we’ve seen with the rollout of AVs, there are a lot of scenarios that need to be solved when the vehicles are driverless,” Nandakumar said, perhaps nodding to the many incidents where Cruise and Waymo stopped robotaxis in the middle of traffic and were a nuisance. traffic. “We want to ensure that our deployment causes minimal public nuisance and, of course, is absolutely safe for all road users.”
That’s why connectivity is so important to Halo Car’s business model. The vehicles will be controlled remotely over T-Mobile’s 5G network, with AT&T and Verizon as backup. Halo has developed an algorithm that allows the data streams to use the network connection that is strongest at any given time to ensure reliable, high-quality, low-latency streaming.
Starting Thursday, Halo’s self-driving vehicle deliveries will be available in downtown Las Vegas between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., and will expand to more areas of the city in the coming months. The startup’s fleet of 20 vehicles consists of Chevy Bolt EVs and Kia Niro EVs, according to the company.
Halo says it plans to expand its Vegas fleet to hundreds of vehicles before expanding to new cities in 2024.
“Our transition to driverless delivery is an important milestone for us as a company. It proves that our remote control technology is not only innovative, but also commercially viable and ready to be scaled up,” Nandakumar said in a statement. “As we prepare to expand and launch new markets, our mission remains unchanged: to provide affordable, accessible and efficient EV transportation.”