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The Business of Autonomy: How One Self-Driving Company Has Opened the Door to Commercial Ride-Hail and Goods Delivery

In this ongoing series, “The Business of Autonomy,” experts from Argo AI explain the anatomy of a commercial self-driving service. First up, Director of Engineering Scott Plant looks at a crucial piece of infrastructure needed to monitor and manage a self-driving fleet.

Though it’s still in adolescent years as an industry, ride-hailing has become a pretty routine experience for customers. Needing to go somewhere, a rider summons a vehicle through an app, waits for their vehicle to arrive, nods to the driver, and jumps in. Little if any thought goes into the infrastructure behind the app, or the technology outside of the vehicle that enabled that driver to accept the ride-hail request in the first place. 

At Argo, we’re working to keep this relationship between customer and commercial service as seamless and frictionless as possible—especially as the vehicles doing the pick-ups, drop-offs. To ensure that our self-driving services operate smoothly and deliver both time- and cost-savings to our customers, we’ve developed Argo Watch, a powerful and scalable dispatch and vehicle monitoring system capable of managing an entire fleet of self-driving vehicles. This infrastructure is designed to seamlessly integrate with partners, such as Lyft, allowing us to get up and running quickly with new services. 

Argo Watch also represents a potential step-change in customer service for consumers, one that’s only possible because our autonomous vehicles operate in a single network that allows for the optimization of decisions across a fleet.

The Fleet, Digitized

Argo Watch does more than handle route optimization and fleet positioning: it enables control of the Argo fleet from the cloud, allowing Argo to power services like Lyft with ride-hail, and also with goods delivery partners right now.    

All Argo vehicles have a high-speed connection, which enables them to send relevant data to and from the cloud. As well as managing routing and route planning, we monitor resources like fuel levels and battery charges; we keep a careful eye on the state of the autonomy system (for example, how much onboard data storage is left) and we can track vehicle location during its journey. 

What’s more, the data pipeline works both ways, enabling a specific vehicle–or the entire fleet–to receive information about unexpected road closures, construction works, or even vehicle collisions spotted by on-board sensors.

A Ready-to-Roll API 

What really sets Argo Watch’s abilities apart is the ease of integration of the system with a partner like Lyft. We’ve created a flexible, clean interface that lays the foundation for implementation with a variety of partners looking to add driverless vehicles to their existing operations. For our customers, whether ride-hailing operators or goods-delivery companies, the system allows Argo to easily connect to their back-end systems.

Argo’s vehicles all communicate through Argo Watch, which means an operation like Lyft’s can integrate with a single cloud-based system without connecting directly to each vehicle. And unlike existing ride-hail services, which can’t dictate to drivers exactly where they are required to be, Lyft will have the ability to pre-position vehicles in high-demand areas, like outside concerts or sporting events. This ensures that vehicles are ready to pick up potential ride-hail customers when they are most needed.

Growing City Operations

Argo Watch currently enables operation of the vehicle fleet wherever our clients need them. With an eye on scaling, we’re currently testing in six U.S. cities, with preparations underway to launch fleets in Hamburg and Munich, Germany and a European footprint that can be quickly expanded. We also developed a custom-designed app for Argo employees in each of these cities to test our self-driving system in a ride-hailing service. 

When combined, our fleet management system and the ride-hail test app—effectively the backstage and front of house interfaces of Argo Watch—open the door to wide-scale commercialization of Argo’s SDS. They unlock the ability to optimize fleet position, assign or alter routes, and monitor critical resources such as fuel, battery charge status, and other vehicle functionalities. They are the linchpins to a future of trusted, reliable, and enjoyable self-driving.

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