The New Driverless Car Service Powered by 5G – 5G and autonomous vehicles are two of the most important innovations on our technological horizon. Both have enormous potential to change the way we live and move, especially when they’re integrated into a more powerful whole. That’s exactly what a startup called Halo wants to do with a 5G-powered fleet of semi-autonomous electric vehicles.
How does Halo work, and what are its chances of success in the high-stakes world of autonomous vehicle technology? The company has some human-centric tricks up its sleeve that could make its cars smarter and more efficient than the typical self-driving car “brain” housed in an extruded aluminum enclosure can manage. Read on to find out what they are and how they could affect Halo’s upcoming big debut.
What Is Halo?
Halo is a Las Vegas startup that provides an on-demand ride hailing service, similar in purpose to established apps like Lyft and Uber. Currently, it’s collaborating with T-Mobile and the City of Las Vegas on a fleet of electric ride share cars that will serve the city’s massive demand for personal transportation. None of these cars will have a person sitting behind the wheel driving.
The twist is that these vehicles will (at first) technically be neither driverless nor autonomous. Instead, during the journey to the customer, a trained operator will control the vehicle remotely through the use of 5G-powered sensors and cameras. Halo says that these remote drivers will “teach” their Level 3 autonomous driving algorithm, and that they’ll eventually be phased out.
When the vehicle arrives at the customer’s pickup point, the customer then drives the vehicle to their destination themselves. After the customer arrives, the vehicle’s remote driver retakes control and drives the vehicle either to its next pickup or back to the garage, with minimal time spent idling. The end result, according to Halo’s pitch, is a more efficient and human-focused take on personal transportation.
Halo’s business model is an interesting new hybrid of car on demand, ride on demand, and 5G-equipped autonomous vehicles. The startup is well-funded by tech VC firms eager to capitalize on the intersection of ride-hailing and autonomous vehicles. Its pedigree includes backing from former Uber and Amazon execs, and it could provide a template for others to follow if it takes off.
The Business Case for Halo
Demand for on-demand transportation like rideshares has remained strong, and a rideshare that essentially delivers a vehicle for the customer to drive themselves is a potential game-changer. Halo is also operating in Las Vegas, a city whose large tourism and entertainment industries further increase demand for flexible transportation options at any hour of the day.
What about safety? Halo’s remote-driving system could allow it to bypass many of the safety and reliability concerns that have troubled other autonomous vehicle initiatives. An actual human will still have full control of the vehicle—just from a remote location instead of in the car. Time will tell whether the eventual phase-out of human control is realistic, but it’s at least an intriguing possibility.
One potential positive sign for Halo’s viability is that it’s not the only big deal to come from the intersection of tech, automobiles, and telecom lately. AT&T and General Motors, for example, recently launched a partnership that will outfit GM cars with AT&T 5G technology to aid their upcoming Super Cruise self-driving technology. Although this could mean more competition, it also means that the underlying 5G technology is reliable enough that many companies trust it.
Another advantage in Halo’s corner is its partnership with the city of Las Vegas itself. It’s the kind of public-private partnership experiment that we could likely see more of as cities search for effective ways to develop 5G tech infrastructure projects. With that, plus the T-Mobile partnership, Halo has a lot of skilled and well-resourced backers for its pilot project.
Potential Caveats of the Halo Model
The Halo model for semi-autonomous vehicles has a lot of potential advantages, but its success is far from guaranteed. Halo will face challenges, both old and new, from several directions:
- This will be an important test case for 5G networks in autonomous vehicles. Halo needs its 5G network to be extremely reliable and consistent, so T-Mobile will need to ensure it can meet the demands of these ultra-high-bandwidth applications. Although Halo does have backup networks to rely on in emergencies, T-Mobile’s network strength will be a defining factor in the company’s success.
- Training algorithms to drive has continually proven harder than anyone expected. If Halo’s eventual Level 3 autonomous driving technology never materializes, will they stick with the remote human operator model? Few startups like to talk about what happens if a core element of their business model fails, but the question is certainly a relevant one.
- While this technology sidesteps some of the biggest issues of AI driving, Halo’s human operators will need to prove themselves equal to the task of safely operating a vehicle using remote control systems from miles away. If human drivers experience problems operating vehicles remotely, or technical difficulties interfere, the remote driver model could be over before it starts.
- When it comes to autonomous rideshares, Halo is far from the only game in town, even just in Las Vegas. Lyft and Aptiv’s self-driving rideshare service already has over 100,000 paid rides under its belt in Vegas, although its vehicles all have a paid driver physically behind the wheel. If Halo does reach critical mass, it will find well-funded competitors like Aptiv watching its every move.
- Lest we forget, Halo still hasn’t actually launched. The company listed late 2021 as a target date, so we’ll know soon whether it was able to meet this year’s development goals. Something else to watch: 2021 has seen massive supply chain disruptions in industrial and tech components, from microchips to custom enclosures, so it will be interesting to observe whether Halo has been able to overcome these issues in time for launch.
Other tech, vehicle, and telecom companies are sure to watch projects like Halo closely. Whether the current generation of autonomous vehicle projects succeeds or or fails, they’ll provide lessons for the next generation of businesses trying to navigate the landscape of autonomous technologies.