March 07, 2023
Autonomous Vehicle Test Drivers: Pioneers of the Future of Mobility
A glimpse into the life of our test drivers, who are ensuring that the self-driving cars of the future are safe, reliable, and comfortable.
Mobileye’s autonomous-vehicle test drivers are professional driving instructors who test our technologies in real-world traffic.
"I love being in the AV workshop. I feel like I am an astronaut working at NASA.”
– Tomer Horoszowski, Mobileye AV Test Driver
The average American or European spends at least 300 hours a year in a car. But as progress in autonomous vehicle technology advances, we’re moving into a new era of mobility, in which that time behind a steering wheel will be completely transformed.
Without the burden of driving a car, drivers will have new options for how to spend their commuting time. They might attend a virtual meeting with colleagues halfway across the world, play a game of chess, eat their lunch in a mobile restaurant, or take a much-needed nap. The possibilities are endless.
As more and more people come to enjoy the benefits of autonomous technology, few will know about the pioneers who had a special role in ensuring that these vehicles were safe, reliable, and ready for widespread consumer adoption.
At Mobileye, those pioneers are called our AV Test Driver Team.
Pioneers of the Future of Mobility
Mobileye’s autonomous-vehicle (AV) test drivers are an elite group of professional drivers who are playing an essential role in making Mobileye’s “eyes-off/hand-off” vision a reality.
“We’re all race-car driving instructors,” Horoszowski points out. “It’s something that makes us the best AV test drivers.”
Like the pilots who graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in the 1950s to become the first American astronauts at the dawn of the Space Age, the race car driving instructors who make up Mobileye’s AV testing team have found that their driving expertise provides them with the unique set of skills required for honing one of the greatest technological advancements of our time—self-driving cars.
Gilad Galili, our head test driver, explains that as a driving instructor, your first priority is safety—and that the same principle applies to testing autonomous vehicles.
“Safety is number one and we don’t take chances,” says Galili. “A good test driver is able to perceive all drivers around the vehicle and understand their intentions,” he adds. “He should be able to ‘read the street’ and always be several steps ahead of all the other drivers in the environment.”
Racing drivers possess excellent hand-eye coordination, car control, and situational awareness, allowing them to respond to changes in a split second. And race car driving also requires them to acquire expert skills in navigating challenging racetracks and making critical decisions under pressure.
The AV test drivers of Mobileye emphasize that the art of car racing is what has taught them to drive at a level of safety that is much higher than most drivers.
“As a race-car driving instructor,” says Horoszowski, “you learn in-depth about how the elements of driving come together—for example, you must know precisely how to use the gas pedal and the brake to control the handling of the car. Racing also teaches you to plan. You are always planning your race and thinking about possible moves of other cars. The distances are very close—most of the race, you might be less than a meter from another car. So, you have to be very aware of other cars and know how to prevent an accident.”
"It’s important to understand that we have to have very high-level driving skills,” adds AV test driver David Polak. “And not only advanced technical driving skills, but we actually have to understand the physics of driving as well.”
A More Comfortable Ride
Besides their main focus on safety, Mobileye’s AV test drivers also ensure that AVs using Mobileye technology feel comfortable and natural. For example, passengers should feel no difference between how an AV drives and how a human-driven vehicle drives.
“Because we train them on the streets of Jerusalem, which are challenging due to the mix of different types of drivers, our cars drive very naturally and are able to adapt easily to other cities around the world,” says Galili. In fact, Mobileye AV testing has taken place—successfully—in some of the most challenging urban driving environments in the world, like Tokyo, Paris, and New York.
This aspect of driving is so important that Mobileye has also created another dedicated team that focuses exclusively on refining the comfort and natural feeling of the self-driving driving experience.
To the Limit
Veteran race-car drivers have years of experience handling a vehicle under pressure and know how to push their vehicles’ limits to achieve their goal of winning races.
When the goal is to make autonomous driving far safer than human driving, Mobileye AV drivers face a different challenge: to understand and test the limits of an autonomous vehicle in a public environment while protecting pedestrians, passengers, other drivers, and themselves.
“They have a really intense job,” says Kevin Rosenblum, Mobileye’s vice-president of AV sensing and one of the developers who works closely with the AV test team. “They have to have incredible focus during the whole ride. I admire them.”
After every drive, the AV test drivers upload data, their notes, and video footage from the drive to the issue-tracking system. Years of advanced driving in challenging situations as professional racing drivers have helped the AV test drivers to become sensitive to all aspects of driving a vehicle, a skill which helps them provide valuable feedback to the development team.
“I feel I am very sensitive to how the car drives—you could say I am ‘one’ with it,” says Gilad Heskia, another racing instructor who joined Mobileye as an AV test driver. This valuable feedback enables Mobileye’s development team to consistently improve the technology, making it essential to getting Mobileye’s technology ready for market.
Connecting to the Big Picture
“Being an AV test driver is a dream come true,” adds Polak. “I’ve always been in love with cars, since I was a kid. I’ve always loved reading about concept cars. And now, I am actually driving the concept cars that will one day become the standard cars of the future. It’s amazing.”
“I think that having AVs on the road is the most effective way to reduce accidents,” says Heskia. That’s because self-driving cars, unlike humans, never get drowsy, drunk, or distracted. In fact, Mobileye’s aim is for its redundant sensor subsystems to ensure a level of safety that is one full order of magnitude higher than human drivers.
“Having them on the road will also help traffic flow and minimize traffic jams” adds Heskia. “With MaaS (Mobility-as-a-Service), if you need a car, you order one. Commutes will become much easier—no one likes to be stuck in traffic.”
But the ease and safety of the daily commute is not the only factor driving the AV test drivers.
“AVs will save everyone a lot of energy and reduce emissions—they will have a big positive impact on the environment,” comments Polak.
With improved traffic flow and fewer cars on the road (since each car will carry more occupants than currently), AVs should reduce not only traffic congestion but also air pollution. And since self-driving cars will almost universally be electric and use smart technology to optimize their energy consumption, they will help to even further reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
At Mobileye, our vision of a future with smarter automobiles has been evolving since 1999. And with every day that passes, we’re moving closer to that vision.
Our trailblazing AV test drivers play an instrumental role in realizing that vision, ensuring that when our autonomous driving technology is rolled out, it’s safe and reliable for everyone.
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