Taxi drivers look set to face yet more changes in Jersey following the news that the island’s first driverless cab is soon to be trialled here.
The scheme is the brainchild of a local entrepreneur, who has developed a vehicle which has been specially adapted to give a comfortable, clean, punctual and informative ride.
Noel Tostevin has spent much of his career in the US, where he worked as a consultant for Google, helping them to develop “autonomous vehicle integrated technology” (AViT)
Now Mr Tostevin has set up his own firm using his AViT knowledge, and believes Jersey is in a unique position to benefit.
“Jersey is the ideal test-bed for driverless taxis,” said Mr Tostevin. “It is a small, self-contained geography, with an excellent communications infrastructure, meaning the cars can stay in touch with the central control equipment at all times. Our plan is to set up a flatscreen TV and high-quality audio system in the back of the cab, so that visitors can watch promotional videos about the island, or listen to pod-casts about points of interest - if they are abusive or drunk, we can play a recording of a States Sitting to put them to sleep. The cabs are all connected to a ‘virtual concierge’ called Nigel, so that customers can ask a question about the island, perhaps about it’s history, or politics, and Nigel will give them an informative, considered and interesting answer.
“Local people can ask what the weather has been like while they have been away, and Nigel will give them a run down on exciting weather events they have missed. We’ve even had a few customers ask, ‘So have you been busy?’ which Nigel initially struggled to answer, but we have uploaded some 'template' ideas for him now to tackle that one. The question which always confuses him though is ‘what time do you finish’, as technically he is ‘on’ all the time.”
Video: Waymo, Google's self-driving car.
Mr Tostevin’s plan is to trial the first driverless taxi next month, picking passengers up at the airport, and taking them to their chosen destination. If that’s successful, he plans to launch with a fleet of ten vehicles, which customers will book and pay for via an app.
“AViT allows the vehicle to be guided via GPS, with a sophisticated set of cameras providing a 360 degree perspective, and 62 sensors to judges distances around the car. When you put all of that technology together I believe it is safer than most drivers on the road today, as the technology never gets angry, distracted or frustrated. The cars are also prevented from exceeding the speed limit.
“To be honest, I would have done this years ago, but we hit a real problem working on the artificial intelligence to cope with ‘filter-in-turns’. We actually thought at one point that to teach someone (or something) who wasn’t from Jersey, that it’s a simple case of taking it in turns, was going to prove impossible! But we persevered, and Nigel has just about got the hang of it; although we have programmed the car's lights to flash when it approaches these types of junction, just in case.”
Further details of the app will be released soon, and Mr Tostevin expects the main problem to be keeping up with demand.
“Jersey has some excellent taxi drivers, but their industry has gone through so much changes recently, and this is the next logical step. We have already launched in three other jurisdictions, and our experience there has actually been that we need the knowledge of the 'old school’ human drivers to fine tune our data-base of routes - no one know how the shave 30 seconds off a journey time as well as they do, and those savings can often be invaluable."
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