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Kiwi engineer’s AI software tested in driverless cars across London

Kiwi engineer's AI software tested in driverless cars across London

A Kiwi behind a driverless car pilot in London says he sees a future where it will be illegal for humans to drive cars.

Roboticist Alex Kendall co-founded Wayve, a business that creates artificial intelligence software for driverless cars, while working towards his PhD at the University of Cambridge alongside co-founder Amar Shah.

Wayve has raised US$20 million (NZ$31m) in funding from Silicon Valley-based venture capitalists, including from Uber chief scientist Zoubin Ghahramani.

Kendall said the company would use the funding to launch a pilot with eight driverless electric Jaguar I-Pace SUVs to drive around London.

Current driverless cars use sensors and human-coded rules, but Wayve’s AI allowed the software to learn over “thousands and thousands” of hours of driving so it could navigate roads it had never driven before.

“A person can learn to drive in 30 to 40 hours. But the AI technology spends thousands of hours learning from how experts drive cars,” he said.

“Our technology uses a very different approach to the rest of the self-driving industry as it enables us to deploy cars in a much more scalable fashion that doesn’t depend on billions of dollars of infrastructure like our competitors.”

Wayve is competing against tech giants including Google, Uber and Tesla. Wayve was the first self-driving technology company outside the United States to attract top-tier Silicon Valley venture capital investment.

“I believe in the future it will become illegal for humans to drive cars because humans are simply too dangerous,” Kendall said.

According to the Automobile Association, human error caused more than 90 per cent of both fatal and serious injury crashes, in New Zealand.

Last year, an Uber driverless car killed a pedestrian, but the US National Transportation Safety Board determined this week that it was the safety driver’s fault, who was watching a television show while supervising the car.

Kendall said driverless cars would lead to greater efficiency in transport and real estate.

“It will make mobility cheaper and more accessible for everyone. Reduce congestion with shared vehicles and free up more space in city centres, change the way we live, with car parks outside of city centres.”

Last year car parking app Parkable chief executive Toby Littin said 80 per cent of car parks in Auckland were under-used.

“There’s some horrible inefficiencies in building parking design and transport designing. If you have 200 car parks but only, say, 120 spaces are utilised, convert the rest of that into green space for the city or usable office space,” Littin said.

“We’re probably the only car parking company in the world that wants less car parks not more. We want to see people utilise them more effectively,” Littin said.

Christchurch Airport has bought a 15-person New Zealand built Ohmio Automation Lift shuttle. The vehicle is autonomous and electric, and has some parts which were 3D printed.

It is the second stage of an ongoing trial of autonomous vehicles at the airport which began in January 2017 with a smart shuttle made by French company Navya.

Kendall said his technology could be used across vehicles, including public transport and food delivery robots.

“Our dream is to develop this successfully and take it back home to New Zealand.”


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