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Are we glimpsing the future of remote delivery vehicles?

New car rental service launches with obvious implications for retailers…

A car rental service that delivers a remotely driven vehicle to the user has been launched in a major city.

The Fetch vehicle system has been tested for 18 months in Milton Keynes and will now be available to customers.

For now, all of the cars are delivered with a safety driver in the front of the vehicle who can take over the controls if necessary.

Chief executive Koosha Kaveh said: “It’s driverless but not autonomous – yet.”

Imperium Drive, the company behind the service where cars are controlled by an office-based operator, claimed it was the first of its kind in Europe. 

Although the cars currently have a safety driver, the firm hopes they will no longer be needed after about 18 months of further testing.

The remote operator of the car has a 360-degree view of the roads using cameras built into the vehicle, as well as anti-crash safety systems in the operating software.

Customers can hire the electric cars through an app and although they drive them as normal, the vehicles are delivered by a remote operator to any location within a four-mile (6.4km) radius of Milton Keynes city centre.

When the rental period expires, the operator resumes control and brings the vehicle back to base.

The cars have been tested on the city’s roads for the last 18 months, completing more than 1,000 miles (1,609km) of journeys without a single collision, Imperium Drive said.

Mr Kaveh said: “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.”

The Fetch car system has the backing of both the government and Milton Keynes City Council, which sees rental systems like this as a way of reducing the number of cars on the roads. The Council said it was “supportive of any new technologies that can revolutionise the way we travel, making it more sustainable”. 

Whilst much has been said about the potential for autonomous vehicle deliveries in retail, this alternative strategy of remote operated vehicles could prove easier to achieve and less controversial, with public perception of remote operation being that it is “less risky” than totally autonomous control. Ironic given that most road accidents are caused by human error and that computers do not make mistakes!

Remote controlled vehicles also offer the opportunity for the driver to interact with customers when making home deliveries. So there is still a human face and perhaps perceived service value available to retailers taking advantage of this kind of vehicle delivery arrangement.

Based on the BBC Article Remote Driver Car Service Launches In Milton Keynes

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