Drive.ai, a U.S.-based technology company staffed by experts from Stanford University's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, has become the latest entrant in the autonomous vehicle race, with an assist from a prominent ex-Detroit 3 executive.
Drive.ai is launching a fleet of pilot vehicles -- made by various carmakers -- retro-fitted with roof-mounted communications systems capable of not only sensing the surrounding environment, but communicating to those in the area what the vehicle will do.
The company said Tuesday that its aim is to use artificial intelligence to "create a robust new language of human-robot interactions -- essential for making people trust and welcome self-driving vehicles."
The company said former General Motors senior executive Steve Girsky will serve on its board of directors. Girsky stepped down from the GM board in June this year after serving the carmaker in several capacities including vice chairman, and chairman of its Opel unit.
"We all know that the automotive industry is in the midst of a foundational shift," Girsky said in a statement. "The emergence of self-driving technology, and deep learning in particular, brings an incredible opportunity to save countless lives, transform the transportation landscape, and shift the way we think about cars and technology. The team at Drive.ai has the vision and expertise to lead this new era."
In a statement, the privately held company said Girsky brings "deep expertise within corporate management and the automobile industry."
Carol Reiley, co-founder and president of Drive.ai, said the company was founded in April 2015 by a team of artificial intelligence experts dedicated to taking autonomous vehicles to the next level. A number of Phd. Candidates, including Reiley herself, have suspended their doctoral work to take part in the project, she said in an interview.
"We’re pushing deep learning more end-to-end than it's been done before," Reiley said. "We use it for perception all the way through to decision making -- how a car should maneuver and drive" and also employ "artificial intelligence inside and outside the car."
In traffic situations, there's often an unwritten code between drivers and pedestrians. Driverless cars need to be capable not only of maneuvering safely in traffic but communicating their movements to other drivers or pedestrians, she said.
"At a pedestrian is crossing, there's this non verbal communication that takes place. When you remove the driver, how do you understand what the (vehicle's) intention is? We want to communicate intent through several different indications: lights, emojis, sounds…... The example of worst designed feature of the car is the horn. It's a monotone."
Drive.ai will "build retro-fitted kits for business fleets" that may deliver either people or cargo, she said in an interview. "We retrofit your vehicles. We are working with partners to develop a route-based approach."
The company aims to keep costs low and minimize complexity of the kits, she says.