The technology for driverless cars is already here, and it's poised to proliferate widely in the year ahead. However, there are also over a billion vehicles already in use today that will take decades to become obsolete and be replaced by autonomous vehicles. That's why some researchers and startups such as the IVO Robot Driver at Ben-Gurion University are working on a solution that can make existing cars, trucks, and other industrial vehicles autonomous.
I saw the first version of their IVO prototype in action (on a golf cart) on Thursday and was impressed by what they've accomplished. Respected roboticist Hugo Guterman and his Ph.D student Oded Yechiel said that version 2 of IVO is coming shortly and it will fold down into briefcase and be installable in a vehicle within five minutes. IVO 2.0 is in the process of being spun into a startup and is currently entertaining offers from investors.
We caught up with Yechiel after the demo to do an interview for TechRepublic users. You can watch the video interview above or you can read the transcript below.
Yechiel said, "So what we are doing here is developing a robotic driver that you can install in any vehicle in five minutes and it connects to the steering wheel, it connects to the pedals. Later on it will have an arm that can operate different features inside of the vehicle. It's tailored just like a human driver and it has all of the sensors, all of the computing power, everything on it, and it can recognize the road and it can recognize objects in its environment. And [it can] autonomously drive the vehicle just like a human driver would.
"The main advantage that you have here with IVO is that you can transform any vehicle into an autonomous vehicle in five minutes, which is a very good or a great advantage for companies that have a fleet of vehicles especially in closed environments there are specialized tools, such as tractors or trucks or forklifts or whatever you will need to drive, which today is not autonomous and you don't want to throw away the fleet of vehicles in order to transform these vehicles into autonomous vehicles."
Yechiel continued, "Our main approach today is not to go to urban environments. We're not competing with Tesla and Google and all these giant companies that invest a lot of effort and money and their connections in order to get all the regulations through, which is very, very complex because driving in an urban environment is a big responsibility. We're letting these giant companies do all the heavy lifting that is required in order to pass [legislation] through and understand what is required from a tech company to bring its own autonomous technology into the market. But rather than that, we want to go into niche applications such as mining and agriculture and security and border control and these kinds of applications. There is a very big need how to transform these vehicles, which also cost a lot of money. To transform them into autonomous vehicles in these specific applications, IVO can be a great solution to make the transition from non-autonomous vehicles into autonomous vehicles.
"What you see here is actually the proof of concept, so you can even still see the wires and the casing is not very nice, but the main idea is already developed and what we're doing now is developing the second prototype that IVO will be. And it will be, of course, more like a product that you can buy off a shelf in a store. We're designing this product in a way that it will be very simple for a user to first of all maneuver it from place to place and store it if you want to just put it in your luggage compartment and when you want to install it. You can just open it up out of a suitcase and put it in the driver's seat. Install it in five minutes and that's it. You have your own driverless car and we're really also thinking towards how to move it from place to place on airplanes, so we're really trying to make the form factor apply to airline regulations.
"We are still in baby steps currently. [We're] going towards to bigger markets but we have already started talking with companies here and there, and we're always open to talk to whoever wants to listen to our story."
- Our autonomous future: How driverless cars will be the first robots we learn to trust (TechRepublic cover story)
- For a future with driverless cars, games are better than surveys as a research tool (TechRepublic)
- Tech and the future of transportation: From here to there (ZDNet)
- Robots could write your next speeding ticket, if Ford's autonomous cop car comes to pass (TechRepublic)
- The obstacles to autonomous vehicles: Liability, societal acceptance, and disaster stories (ZDNet)
- IT leader's guide to the future of autonomous vehicles (Tech Pro Research)
Jason Hiner has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.