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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Drive.ai Brings Its Self-Driving Cars to Dallas Cowboy Fans

Nearly halfway into the NFL season, the Dallas Cowboys are 3–3 and sit 20th out of 32 on ESPN’s power ranking index, which gives them a less than 50–50 shot at making the playoffs. So fans of America’s Team don’t have a whole lot to get excited about. Unless, that is, they like riding in robot cars.

Today, startup Drive.ai is launching a self-driving car service in Arlington, Texas, which sits halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth and is home to the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium. The service will run several routes in multiple parts of the city, bustling to and from big venues including that stadium, Globe Life Park (where baseball’s Texas Rangers play), and the Arlington Convention Center.

The service will start with three vehicles, which will have human safety operators sitting behind the wheel, ready to take control if anything goes awry. To ride, you have to register through Drive.ai’s app or enter your name and phone number at one of the kiosks the company will set up along its routes. (The kiosks are where the vehicles will make stops.)

“This is not a short technical demo,” says CEO Bijit Halder. “This is a sustainable service that will solve people’s problems today, tomorrow, and the day after.”

Drive.ai is set to run these routes for a year, and while it’s not charging riders anything, it’s being paid $434,952 for the service. A federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Improvement Grant will provide $343,000; the rest comes Arlington’s coffers.


That money is important, Halder says. Developing a self-driving car takes a lot of money, effort, and time. Less than half a million is tiny compared to the $77 million the startup has raised so far (according to Crunchbase), but it’s nice to start the shift from spending money to making it.

This is Drive.ai’s second service. It has been running cars in nearby Frisco since August, carrying riders between an office park, an apartment complex, and a local stadium. The Arlington project will be bigger, serving more riders in more situations, which is key to gathering the data that helps its software learn—and helps its designers keep improving the user experience. In a booming field of AV developers, this company stands out for its attention to how riders and other road users interact with its vehicles. Its sensor-laden Nissan NV200 vans are painted bright orange to make them extra noticeable, and they use dynamic panels to convey messages like “Waiting for you to cross” and “Pulling over.”

Halder declined to offer a timeline for when he’d be ready to take the far more impressive step of ditching the human overseers, something Waymo has pledged to do this year. “Taking drivers out of the seat is a big leap in operational safety,” Halder says, “and we have to be super careful.”

But if his cars can learn to handle something as complex as a crowd of disgruntled Cowboys fans who’ve likely had a (case of) beer or two, how hard can the rest of the world really be?

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