Car-sharing cars that pick you up where you are

An Estonian start-up will test a concept of real remote-controlled cars. Objective: to make car-sharing vehicles available where the customer is.

A car without driver but not autonomous for all that… this is the technology on which Elmo is working. This Estonian start-up has just unveiled a prototype car-sharing car that can be driven remotely.

Connected in 4G with the control station, an operator seated in a gaming chair, hands on the steering wheel and feet on a pedal, drives remotely while viewing the road and any obstacles from a screen of almost identical size to that of a windshield.

It is from this driving position, which looks like a video game station, that the driver can drive the vehicle remotely.
It is from this driving position, which looks like a video game station, that the driver can drive the vehicle remotely. © Elmo

Cameras, a 4G connection, a gaming steering wheel

A series of cameras is installed on the vehicle to film the surroundings, the images are broadcast on the screen of the driver that Elmo calls supervisor. Vehicle and remote driving position are connected in 4G. The steering equipment developed by Elmo reproduces identically on the steering wheel of the vehicle the action of the supervisor on the one he has in his hands, via electrical impulses. Same for the pedals.

Elmo promises not to install too many additional sensors in each vehicle, so as not to pollute the driving position for the customer. The remote control will also disconnect as soon as the user receives the car. And what if the connection is cut? The Estonian start-up ensures that the vehicle stops after five seconds.

“To optimize the delivery process, we have developed a technology that relies on a remote-controlled vehicle, you order the car on your application and it comes to you without a physical driver in the car, explains Kristiina Kalda, Director France Elmo. It is driven remotely by our teleoperator, who is indeed a natural person”.

The car is therefore not strictly speaking an autonomous car, even if it does not have a driver.

The steering wheel that allows the operator to remotely drive Elmo's car.
The steering wheel that allows the operator to remotely drive Elmo’s car. © Elmo

During the very first tests to be launched in July in Estonia, a supervisor will be present in the cockpit of the prototypes to ensure safety. But if the tests go well, the deployment of this solution could go very quickly.

“We have done a lot of tests for two years, but we will launch the service in Estonia really in a few weeks, during the month of June, the idea is not to develop a technology for a technology but to understand the customer’s needs and to meet them”, continues Kristiina Kalda.

Regulations in the process of being written

And the current regulations do not seem to be an obstacle. “The car is not autonomous. For autonomous cars, there are a number of texts being drafted. In Estonia we are working hand in hand with the authorities to provide them with all our data so that the authorities can enshrine this in the regulations, explains Kristiina Kalda. And we believe that this will be the case in many countries”.

Elmo will launch tests to remotely drive his cars.
Elmo will launch tests to remotely drive his cars. © Elmo

Thanks to this technology, Elmo wants to automate a mode of operation that it already applies in Estonia, in its car-sharing system for electric cars. Once reserved via the application, the customer finds the vehicle at the bottom of his home or the chosen location, via a driver who drops him off.

“For a year now, we have been delivering vehicles to our customers because we know that one of the obstacles to car sharing is the fact that the customer has to pick up the vehicle, for example at a parking point. car-sharing, explains Kristiina Kalda. If the customer wishes, we deliver the car to their doorstep”.

Elmo is very optimistic about the commercial development of its technology. “If we are sure of the safety, we can do without the driver for example a month after the start of the tests”, explains Kristiina Kalda.

Pauline Ducamp