Phantom Auto Demonstrates Remote Controlled Car on Public Roads

Phantom Auto Demonstrates Remote Controlled Car on Public Roads

Author: Mia Bevacqua   

Nearly everyone remembers playing with remote-controlled cars as a kid. At the Consumer Electronics Show, Phantom Auto demonstrated RC cars don't have to be limited to childhood memories. The company's modified Lincoln MKZ, is the first full-scale, remote-controlled car to make its way onto public roads. 

Remote-control for the real world

Phantom Auto hopes to convince consumers that the best type of autonomous car is one piloted by a human driver. Or at least one with a human co-pilot. 

 "An autonomous vehicle company might have a system that works 95 or even 99 percent of the time, but that last 1 percent is a very difficult piece of the puzzle to solve," says Phantom CEO Shai Magzimof. "We're here to do that hardest part."

The company believes remote control will be very useful as a backup for self-driving cars. In other words, Phantom will be watching, ready to to bail you out, when your self-driving car goes haywire.  

Working out the data bugs

Real world remote control cars aren't simple, like small-scale versions you find at Toys R Us. Magzimof admits, controlling the MKZ from afar was no easy task. One of the biggest hurdles was overcoming the delay of data from one location to the next. The result was that, video on the control end, was extremely delayed. 

 "At the very beginning, the car would hiccup every second," admits Magzimof. "Imagine Facetime on your phone in the passenger seat." 

But, Phantom overcame the problem. To ensure data arrives in a timely manner, the company uses multiple wireless networks, including Verizon, AT&T and Sprint. The company then maps the network coverage over an area, before it deploys a car remotely. Palo Alto, Mountain View, and parts of Las Vegas have been mapped so far. San Jose and San Francisco are next.

Another way Phantom is able to address the latency problem, is by sending redundant data. Each video goes through different channels. Phantom also sends the most critical data over all available networks at once. An algorithm allows the system to jump between networks to avoid a network-imposed data bottleneck. 

But what happens in an area with no cell coverage? The dreaded "dead zone"?

If the network signal suddenly drops, the screens at the control center will begin to pixelate. The car can still continue working sluggishly on a 3G connection. If all the cell networks go down, the car will bring itself to a stop and turn on the hazard lights.

Full-scale remote-controlled cars, coming to a city near you – maybe

So, who's watching the Phantom remote-control cars? Currently, the company has five control systems set up in Mountain View, California. Each has the technology and the man-power to control about 5 remote vehicles. 

Barring any unforeseen regulatory issues, Phantom plans to deploy its RC fleet soon. The rollout will be accelerated as 5G wireless networks are introduced.  

If Phantom Auto does make it mainstream with its RC cars, it will be a dream come true for big kids everywhere. 

Source: IEE Spectrum 

Mia Bevacqua
Mia Bevacqua
Mia is an ASE Certified Master Automobile Technician, L1, L2 and L3 Advanced Level Specialist. She has over 12 years of experience in the automotive industry and a bachelor’s degree in automotive technology. These skills have been applied toward content writing, technical writing, inspections, consulting, automotive software engineering.
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