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Wednesday 4th October

Remotely piloted rental cars take to Milton Keynes roads

Driverless vehicles delivered to your door, for hire

Published: 01 Jun 2023

A new rental car company has launched in Milton Keynes. Buckinghamshire-based brand Fetch is laying claim to a world-first commercial launch and UK-first for driverless vehicles for hire.

Customers can hire cars which are delivered directly to their door – no driver in sight. Rather than use artificial intelligence, the cars are actually remotely piloted from parent company, Imperium Drive’s HQ. A cluster of fancy tech connects to the cars over 4G and 5G networks.

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Koosha Kaveh, CEO of Imperium Drive, told “We’re taking a different approach [to other companies]. We’ll slowly reduce the use of a human over time. Now, cars have a one-to-one ratio. We’ll look to reduce that to one-driver-to-five-cars, then one-to-fifty [over time]. We won’t remove the need for a remote driver as there is a need for a supervisor.”

The company’s patented system – jam-packed full of sophisticated soft- and hardware – relies on all four networks, not just one. This minimises the chances of lag or the signal dropping out. 

Even if that happens, Kaveh said: “We’ve built a robust safety ‘Minimum Risk Management’ mechanism, which will bring the car to a [controlled] stop.”

Coupled with a plethora of cameras that have computer-vision algorithms, even if there’s really bad weather, like fog or heavy snow, it’s likely that the system has better detection capabilities than a human. 

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Remote drivers are required to have a driver’s licence, be based in the UK (it’s the law) and be familiar with the roads in the areas they’re hired. Their speeds are capped at 30mph, and they average 20 – so they’re not exactly treating MK’s roads like the latest Formula E circuit. 

The pricing model is flexible, meaning customers can hire the cars for a matter of minutes (£0.45ppm), by the hour (£14), or by the day (£99). Once you’ve downloaded the app, your identity and driving record is verified and off you go. All the usual terms and conditions of car hire apply, including letting the company know if you get more points on your licence. 

For now, the service is only available in MK. Kaveh said: “In the short term, we’ll be expanding the car rental services to nearby locations, such as Northampton and Luton.”

The Luton launch is of particular interest. The idea of having a driverless vehicle dropped off, so a family can get to the airport without needing to pay for parking is wildly appealing… until you consider what you might do with the child seats, that is. 

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Though there are a number of questions involved - why not take a cab, for example - Kaveh foresees a future where remote pilots could work from home. "Yes seriously. The goal is to enable gig economy workers (like Uber drivers) in the future to get trained by us and sign up for remote driving jobs across the country, while working from home."

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