Driverless car-hailing service launched in Milton Keynes

A new on-demand car-hailing service using remote-controlled driverless vehicles has been launched in Milton Keynes by UK start-up Imperium Drive.

Fetch is the world's first remote-controlled driverless car-hailing service
Fetch is the world's first remote-controlled driverless car-hailing service - Imperium Drive

The world’s first commercial service dubbed Fetch is launching as a paying service in Milton Keynes before being rolled out across the country, to connect with other urban areas and transport interchanges.

Customers can hire a car through the Fetch app, stating when they need it and for how long. A remotely controlled electric vehicle is then delivered to them. The customer then drives the car to their destination and when the rental period is up, the remote vehicle operator takes over and pilots the car back to base or to the next user.

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“It's driverless but not autonomous - yet,” Koosha Kaveh, chief executive of Imperium Drive said in a statement. “There's still a human involved, but they're sitting in a control centre piloting the vehicle in the same way you would a drone. When fully autonomous, we think this system has the potential to replace private car ownership in the UK.”

Kaveh continued: “Why pay all the costs of having a car on your drive when you can just pay for one to arrive when you need it. For short trips, the service offers the same convenience as a ride-hailing or taxi service, but with the ability to cover greater distances at less than half the cost of services like Uber or Bolt.”

Fetch control centre - Imperium Drive

There are currently four cars in the Imperium Drive fleet, operating within a four-mile radius of the Milton Keynes city centre. Further regional hubs are planned to enable intercity travel and airport transfers.

Imperium Drive said the safety of vehicle occupants and other road users is maintained with multiple cameras attached to the cars, giving the operator a 360-degree view. The operating system uses computer image algorithms to detect anything near the car.

The company said it is aiming to transition to full autonomy for car deliveries in the next five years.

Commenting on today’s announcement (June 1, 2023) RAC road safety spokesperson Simon Williams said: “While this scheme has been tested very successfully over an 18-month period, we worry that the experience of remotely driving a vehicle distances the driver from the potential road safety consequences in a video game-like manner.

“Although the remote driver has a reasonable view in front and around them by not being present in the vehicle they are – like it or not – somewhat disconnected from the reality of actually being behind the wheel. There’s also a risk they could be distracted by something in the room where they are located. We also fear there could be serious consequences when this scheme is rolled out more widely and if the delivery distances were to be lengthened to take in faster roads.”