Driver-less cars are coming to Frisco this summer. They’ll be the first to hit public roadways in Texas.
Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney is a self-described 'gadget geek.'
"I'm a technology guy and so I can't wait to get out there and see this ultimate gadget,” he said.
He was first in line to take a cruise in the city's newest venture.
On Monday, Frisco announced a pilot program to put self-driving vehicles on city streets this July. For six months, the program will help connect The Star, Hall Park and Frisco Station. Developers from all three partnered with the city, Denton County Transportation Authority and drive.ai out of Silicon valley to make this a reality.
Right now, the prototype features a large backseat monitor so riders can see how the technology works, how it detects oncoming traffic before it decides what to do.
Outside the vehicle, a screen on the back can light up to warn others on the road about its next move.
Humans will still be involved in the process, monitoring the riders through cameras in the back so they buckle up. In the initial part of the testing phase, someone will sit behind the wheel, acting as a backup driver in case of emergency. There’s a big red button on the dashboard that switches to driver mode if pushed.
The idea behind the partnership is that innovative transportation will attract big corporations and future employees to the area.
"We're gonna always be on that leading edge and so we want to send that message out to the nation - that if they're looking for a city that's going to be innovative, look no further than Frisco, Texas,” Mayor Cheney said.
What happens after the six month pilot project is unclear.
Dr. Gopal Gupta, Erik Jonsson Professor and Department Head at the University of Texas at Dallas, says the researchers are likely studying how the public will use the technology before deciding how to proceed. Self-driving cars that can travel on all roads at any time, he says, are still years away.
“To really have something people can use on a daily basis, just like they use a regular taxi, a lot more research has to happen,” said Gupta. “It’s probably not ready for prime time yet but hopefully in another five, ten, fifteen years, it will be there.”
The challenge, he says, is training the vehicles to react to new circumstances around unpredictable humans.
Dr. Christopher Poe, Senior Research Engineer with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute says the goal is for technology to enable self-driving vehicles to drive more safely than with a human behind the wheel.
“Human-driven vehicles are killing almost 40,000 Americans a year,” said Poe. “There’s a promise we can greatly reduce those numbers.”
Frisco developers say the future is paved with AI technology.
"Your children today, 95 percent of them that are born today, likely will never own a driver's license. The U.S. Department of Transportation tells us that,” said Russell Laughlin, the Executive Vice President of Hillwood Properties.