Halo Car, a startup that uses remote operators to deliver rental cars to a customer’s door, has launched driverless operations in Las Vegas.
Driverless operations mean something different for Halo than they do for autonomous vehicle companies like Cruise or Waymo because Halo’s vehicles aren’t capable of self-driving.
The startup’s fleet is kitted out with a suite of six cameras, modems, antennas and other components to send data back to remote pilots at a Halo operations center. Those pilots then use the video and sensor data that’s streamed in to remotely drive the vehicles. Once a remote driver completes a car delivery, they hand over control of the vehicle to the customer and move onto the next vehicle awaiting remote delivery or collection.
Halo has been delivering vehicles to customers in Las Vegas using teleoperations for around a year, but a human driver has always been present in the front seat for safety reasons. Now Halo cars will be delivered to customers with no drivers in the vehicle.
This is an important step towards achieving Halo’s vision of on-demand vehicles being economically viable, according to Anand Nandakumar, founder and CEO of Halo.
That said, Halo isn’t at the stage where it’s hitting positive unit economics just yet. The company will still use a remote chase car that tails behind the remotely piloted vehicles initially. The driver of the tail car can stop the remotely piloted vehicle and take over if needed.
The tail car also acts as a buffer vehicle in case the Halo car needs to stop, thus preventing a potential rear-end accident with other road users. Halo’s cars will come to a stop in lane if the system detects an anomaly, which means they meet Nevada’s minimal risk condition for AVs that says vehicles must be able to stop if there is a malfunction in the system.
Halo says it will ditch the tail car over the next year based on how the current operations perform. That’ll happen in phases across operation zones and depending on the times of day, according to Nandakumar.
While Halo might be the first company to successfully deliver remote-piloted EVs to customers in Las Vegas, it’s not the only one attempting such a feat. In December 2022, Arcimoto, the maker of the three-wheeled electric Fun Utility Vehicles, teamed up with Faction to develop EVs that can be delivered to a customer’s hotel through a combination of low-level autonomy and tele-assist technology.
Halo’s announcement Thursday comes after six months of intensive testing and training internally, says Nandakumar. The startup had originally targeted the end of 2022 for its driverless launch, but delayed in order to ensure the system’s safety.
“As we’ve seen in the rollout of AVs, there are a lot of scenarios to solve for when the vehicles don’t have a driver inside,” said Nandakumar, perhaps nodding to the many incidents of Cruise and Waymo robotaxis stopping in the middle of traffic and impeding traffic. “We want to make sure that our deployment causes minimal public disruption, and of course, is absolutely safe for all road users.”
That’s why connectivity is so important to Halo Car’s business model. The vehicles are remotely piloted over T-Mobile’s 5G network, with AT&T and Verizon used for backup. Halo developed an algorithm that allows the data streams to use whichever network connection is strongest at any given time in order to ensure reliable, high-quality streaming and low latency.
Starting Thursday, Halo’s driverless vehicle deliveries are available in downtown Las Vegas between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., and will expand to more areas of the city in the coming months. The startup’s fleet of 20 vehicles is made up of Chevy Bolt EVs and Kia Niro EVs, according to the company.
Halo says it plans to grow its fleet in Vegas to hundreds of vehicles before expanding to new cities in 2024.
“Our transition to driverless deliveries marks a significant milestone for us as a company. It proves that our remote-piloting technology is not just innovative, but commercially viable and ready to be scaled up,” said Nandakumar in a statement. “As we prepare to expand and launch new markets, our mission remains unchanged: to provide affordable, accessible, efficient EV transportation.”