Fast forward to the future: Remotely operated cars roll through downtown, Sac State
No driver was in the car, but after a press conference on Monday, a hybrid Lincoln MKZ successfully ferried Mayor Darrell Steinberg and various dignitaries through several blocks in downtown Sacramento.
The driver, Steve, was more than 100 miles away in the Silicon Valley, sitting inside the headquarters of Phantom Auto.
The ride itself was made possible by Phantom Auto’s new remote operation software, which brings us as close to the future as current state law allows.
From April 14-16, Phantom Auto gave tele-operated vehicle rides to community members in Sacramento to demonstrate the reliability of its remote operation software, which represents a critical step toward a fully autonomous vehicle.
California law currently requires autonomous vehicle companies to test driverless vehicles on public roads with a remote operator, who can take control of the vehicle in case it encounters a scenario it can’t handle on its own.
“Sacramento is now one of the first cities in the country with streets where an autonomous car can safely be tested with a backup operator knowing that the wireless connection will always be viable,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. “It’s another step in Sacramento’s emergence as a key testing ground for new mobility technologies.”
In 2018, Phantom Auto and the City of Sacramento announced its partnership to support remote operation technology for driverless vehicles. The partnership was made possible through the Sacramento Urban Technology Lab, a City-run innovation program.
Since the partnership was announced, Phantom has been mapping the wireless coverage needed for teleoperation of cars on two routes – one downtown and one at Sacramento State University. The company merges coverage from multiple cell carriers to make sure that it has a reliable network for teleoperation – which relies on continuous wireless communication.
As the capital of California, the world’s fifth-largest economy, Sacramento is a natural choice for testing autonomous vehicles. With 500,000 residents, Sacramento is big enough to test new technologies but small enough to do so in a manageable fashion.