Ben Shukman takes Fleet Owner for a ride along the Las Vegas strip from Mountain View, CA. (Photo: Nell Abt/Fleet Owner)

What’s it like to take a ride when the driver is 550 miles away?

Jan. 13, 2018
Technology from start-up firm Phantom Auto could help combat several of trucking’s critical security concerns.

LAS VEGAS. Whether it's terrorists hijacking a loaded tractor-trailer or a professional driver suffering a medical emergency on the highway, the outcome of these events could be catastrophic.

Likewise, the possibility of an out-of-control driverless truck caused by hackers or a computer crash is often cited as a reason the technology will never make its way into the mainstream.

However, a start-up company known as Phantom Auto demonstrated for Fleet Owner its technology that could go a long way toward addressing these security and safety issues.

On a rainy afternoon during the CES show, CEO Shai Magzimof took me on a ride from the MGM Grand to the Wynn hotel along Las Vegas Boulevard. While that may seem unremarkable, it was actually unlike any ride I had taken previously because the driver was located about 550 miles away in Mountain View, CA.

Connected simultaneously through multiple wireless networks, our driver, Ben Shukman, was linked with us through video and audio. He remained in control nearly the entire 20-minute ride, including stopping at traffic lights, changing lanes, and merging onto Sands Ave.

For safety reasons, the vehicle was limited to about 25 mph. Several times during the two-mile ride Magzimof encouraged Shukman to accelerate with the flow of traffic, and he offered guidance ahead of a lane change.

There were also a couple braking events that were slightly jarring, but the overall ride was far less nerve-wracking than expected, especially considering the traffic congestion and weather conditions.

For the demonstration, Magzimof had the ability to take back full control of the car at any time, as he did just prior to pulling into the crowded entrance of the Wynn.

This demonstration is not indicative of Phantom Auto’s business model. It does not want to actively drive vehicles from remote locations. Instead, it is more aimed at being a last line of defense to ensure that driverless vehicles in the future arrive safely to their destinations. Co-founder Eilliot Katz said the most likely scenario would be one person remotely monitoring up to five vehicles at any time.

Magzimof said he has already met with various vehicle manufacturers and suppliers, and that a demonstration involving a commercial vehicle would likely take place in California later this winter.

Unlike our ride, Magzimof said Phanton Auto’s technology can be configured to provide full control to the “driver” in a remote location, even if the person in the vehicle sought to maintain control. Additionaly, if there are any network or connectivity issues, it could still safely stop the vehicle.

Magzimof turned 27 a few days prior to CES. He is originally from Israel and Phantom Auto has several employees based in Tel Aviv, though it is headquartered in Mountain View. His previous gaming company, Nextpeer, was acquired by Viber for $9 million in 2015.

About the Author

Neil Abt

Neil Abt, editorial director at Fleet Owner, is a veteran journalist with over 20 years of reporting experience, including 15 years spent covering the trucking industry. A graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., he began his career covering sports for The Washington Post newspaper, followed by a position in the newsroom of America Online (AOL) and then both reporting and leadership roles at Transport Topics. Abt is based out of Portland, Oregon.

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