Pretty soon, Frisco drivers will be heard uttering phrases like, "Holy #*$&! There ain't nobody driving that car!" and "Are ghosts real because I think one is driving that orange van!"
The city of Frisco inked a deal with the California-based tech company Drive.ai to test a new driveless car program on the city's streets sometime in July.
"I'm really excited about it," Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney said. "We've talked about transportation as the fastest-growing city in Texas, and it's something we're trying to solve on a daily basis. We're investing in the technology of [the] future, and we think this is how it's going."
The pilot program will offer rides to approximately 10,000 Frisco residents to places like the business park HALL Park and the Dallas Cowboys' practice and entertainment facility The Star along Gaylord Parkway. The company plans to extend the driverless cars' routes to Frisco Station during a six-month trial run. The cars will pick up and drop off riders along fixed points on the route, according to a statement released by Drive.ai.
Andrew Ng, one of the chief backers of Drive.ai, said in a statement the programmers and creators behind the driverless car program have taken great care to ensure that the cars are not only on the technological edge of transportation but can also provide safe rides for its passengers and pedestrians. The cars are bright orange, so pedestrians and other drivers can see them easily and have exterior LED signs informing pedestrians of the car's reactions and behavior.
"Whether a self-driving car is safe depends not only on the behavior of the car
Users of Driver.ai's cars can hail rides using a smartphone app, and rides will be complimentary to locations along the predetermined route, which covers a portion of Internet Boulevard and across major intersections such as Gaylord and Warren Parkway. Humans driver will sit in the driver's seats after the initial launch for safety precautions as the vehicles learn their routes but will move once the cars are used to their new home.
Cheney said the city estimates that as many as 10,000 residents and visitors of the city could be using the new driverless car program at no cost to the city or the riders.
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"When the state of Texas passed legislation last session that allowed this new technology to go on the ground, Drive.ai didn't need our permission to implement the program, but we wanted them to, and they wanted to go for us too," Cheney said. "Our reputation as far as being innovators was a big motive for them approaching us. They looked at our new infrastructure and know that in the past, we've been willing to embrace new and emerging technology."
Cheney said he became interested in the potential for driverless cars last summer when he purchased a Tesla electric vehicle that offers a driverless mode option in an electronic upgrade. He also took a ride in one of Drive.ai's vans before the city's announcement Monday. When the car encountered a pedestrian crossing in its path, it stopped just in time.
"They put a screen in the back where we can see everything the car is seeing, and as we took the first ride, it's almost like it was planned. ... A pedestrian ran out in front of the car, and the car stopped before any of us even reacted," Cheney said. "None of us knew if we would be able to stop in time, but the car certainly did, and we also encountered situations where cars were breaking traffic laws but the cars were able to recognize and maneuver around them. It's fascinating how the car operated."