While fully autonomous public transportation is still many years away, Jerusalem-based startup WeDrive has already started working on technology that will eventually remove the driver from the bus.
Meanwhile, WeDrive is partnering with PL3, a Hungarian hardware company, to build a two-way video communications screen that connects passengers with a bus company’s operations center. PL3 will build and install the physical screens while WeDrive will handle software development.
The InterVid communication system will allow passengers on a self-driving bus to see and talk to the bus operator sitting offsite in a central control center.
However, public transportation companies have shown interest in InterVid now as a way of improving service and complying with accessibility legislations, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the new European Accessibility Act.
A remote representative, even if he or she is not actually driving the bus, can still “provide better customer support to passengers with different kinds of disabilities,” WeDrive’s director of research Paul Shindman told ISRAEL21c.
The signing ceremony took place at the Hungarian embassy in Tel Aviv on August 19 and included Deputy Hungarian Ambassador János Lastofka, Szabolcs Szolnoki, head of Scientific and Technological Affairs at the Hungarian Embassy and PL3 general manager Péter Paróczai.
It’s a big achievement for a small startup that has so far only raised seed money. That’s set to change soon. “We’ve applied for joint funding of $750,000 under the European Union’s EUREKA development program,” Shindman said.
That will fund development of InterVidand enable it to be deployed in several European cities. “We expect to generate 14 to 20 jobs in Jerusalem in the next year as we finish the prototypes and start testing.”
Shindman expects the system to be deployed at bus stops and bus stations, as well. “If you’ve ever been at the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem, you know the constant demand for answers to questions,” Shindman points out.
“The transition to driverless will require lots of technical hand-holding and lots of customer support – and we intend to be on the leading edge,” he says.