Driverless car startup Halo has announced a new service coming to Las Vegas later this year: a fleet of remotely operated electric vehicles, using T-Mobile’s 5G network. It’s potentially a big step toward fulfilling the promise of 5G remote driver tech, with a significant catch: the cars don’t operate solely on T-Mobile 5G. While it’s the primary network they’ll use (mid- and low-band 5G, specifically, with LTE as a fallback), they will also rely on other networks.
The idea is simple enough: Halo employs remote drivers to operate the vehicles, delivering them to waiting customers who then get behind the wheel and take the car to their destination. When the trip has ended, the car moves on to its next pick-up under remote control. Halo is also currently operating test drives with safety drivers in vehicles, which it says it won’t include when the service launches for paying customers. That’s easier said than done.
There’s no shortage of driverless and autonomous vehicle pilot programs in Las Vegas; Lyft has operated a driverless taxi service in the city, and more recently Motional has been testing autonomous rides without a backup driver behind the wheel. Halo’s service is a little different, using a remote driver, along with an “Advanced Safe Stop” mechanism to automatically bring the car to a halt if a hazard is detected. The company says that ultimately it hopes to achieve full autonomy, and that in the meantime its vehicles are designed to “learn” from their human operators.
Fully remote driverless vehicles have been one of the promises of 5G, and it’s a use case that actually demands the speed and low latency that 5G connectivity is capable of delivering. But in the US, at least, our networks just haven’t met the bar yet to make it a reality. This new service is a step in the right direction, but it seems we’re not quite at full 5G remote operation yet.
It won’t exactly be a widespread service at first, either. Halo says that it will operate in “urban parts of the Las Vegas Valley” at launch and doesn’t disclose how large of an area it will cover, just that it plans to later expand to more parts of the city.
Oh, and it’s probably a coincidence, but Las Vegas is also set to be the stage for Dish Network’s first 5G rollout this summer, a venture that T-Mobile is supposed to be helping to facilitate per its Sprint acquisition deal. If T-Mobile’s 5G network can indeed support a fleet of remotely operated vehicles, it’ll be thanks in part to the addition of Sprint’s spectrum. Before we get carried away by the possibilities of driverless cars, let’s spare a thought for the fourth wireless carrier we’re still missing.