Autonomous Systems, Interviews, Smart Services

Hyperloop One: Building The Range Extender For Autonomous Urban Mobility


Douglas Chey
Senior Vice President Systems Development, Hyperloop One


Douglas Chey
Senior Vice President Systems Development, Hyperloop One

Autonomous Machines World had a chat with Douglas Chey, Senior Vice President Systems Development at Hyperloop One – who is shaping the future of the Autonomous Systems prior to his talk this June!

About Douglas Chey:
Doug leads Hyperloop One’s software, systems development, safety and project management office teams. He’s an accomplished technology leader with 25 years of experience that extends from software development to infrastructure design to cloud, web, consumer transportation, and computer graphics systems. He was named a Hewlett Packard Fellow in 2010 (one of less than 40 out of HP’s 300K+ employees) and his project, Movielink received the 2002 President’s Award from Sony Corporation. Previously, Doug worked for HP as Global Chief Technology Officer, HP Openstack Professional Services. Doug has led the technology for what is now Activision Blizzard, Lucas Digital Ltd, and Paramount Pictures’ UPN Network(nowtheCW). Additionally, he led HP’s portion of several game-changing initiatives including the MagicBand for the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts and Nike ID for NikeCorp.

About his case study:
Doug will be holding the opening keynote on Monday, June 26 with title:“Hyperloop One: Building The Range Extender For Autonomous Urban Mobility. ”Douglas will share insights into the Hyperloop technology and the engineering process behind it while he will also talk about how the company plans to provide a complete system for direct, autonomous, ultrafast intercity transportation of people and goods.

Autonomous Machines World: In regards to autonomous systems technologies, where do we stand now from a technological perspective? What level of autonomy can be reached today?

Douglas Chey: Fully autonomous cars will be on the road in a few years but I do not believe they will be safer than humans on public roads for many more years. There are several reasons for this. The compute, network, and storage resources, as well as the algorithms, are all in their infancy and that creates areas of concern. What about the “school’s out” problem? When the school bell rings, and everyone just pours into the street. Autonomous vehicle processors cannot effectively handle that kind of problem in a quick fashion. The answer in that situation, as it is all too often for autonomous vehicles, is just to stop the vehicle. Humans can edge forward and make decisions for what to do.

Autonomous Machines World: What are the biggest challenges in the autonomous machines space?

Douglas Chey: One big issue is that autonomous vehicle systems are only at a level of sophistication of drawing 3D blocks around objects. I think it will be very important for the technology to improve the algorithms so that bodies become more like bodies and less like stick figures in the “eyes” of the computers driving the cars. Given my gaming background and that most technology is built on gaming technology (hardware like nVidia, software like Havoc, etc.), I feel like autonomous is still in the age of Pong and we need at least Space Invaders in tech. Luckily for Hyperloop One, we don’t control the entire environment or have to deal with a very heterogeneous environment. We build and control the equivalent of the cars and the road and the city and the signals, so our level of variables is smaller. We can get away with a Pong.

Autonomous Machines World: How and which industries will be impacted by the development of autonomous systems and intelligent machines technologies and why?

Douglas Chey: The great question is: Will there be more cars or fewer cars? I have heard arguments for both, that with more autonomy and more direct-to-destination requests we’ll need more cars on the road. But I also know that there could be a lot fewer cars if more people take up ride-sharing. As a person who is not a millennial, I love my private space, so I won’t be contributing to that trend.

You can be reasonable certain that autonomous cars will impact urban infrastructure in unplanned ways. An autonomous car may drive down the street in the exact same location over and over again and wear down the street in one place. I also think that street lights will disappear at some point because the cars won’t need them.

Autonomous Machines World: Tell us a little about your presentation. What will be the focus and key points of your keynote?

Douglas Chey: Cities in the not-so-distant future will be swarming with clouds of connected vehicles. That’s great, but what happens between those cities? It’s an information and service gap. That’s where we come in. Hyperloop One plans to build the “range extender” for autonomous urban mobility. Let’s say you’re in your office in Berlin and it’s your wife’s birthday and you want to take her to this great new gastropub in Hamburg for dinner.

Six o’clock rolls around and you tap your phone, an Uber picks you up at your office, drives home to get your spouse and off you both go to the Hauptbahnhof Hyperloop One portal (our term for station). Your self-driving Uber has already contacted the portal via Hyperloop’s “autonomous vehicle interface” or AVI, and just as you arrive at the portal, your Hyperloop pod is waiting for you (or, better yet, your Uber slips right into the Hyperloop itself). Security and authentication and payment are all settled in the backend via the AVI. Your pod accelerates gradually to airline speed and arrive at the Hamburg portal in 20 minutes. Your Uber drives right out of the Hyperloop portal and straight to your dinner. It’s direct, autonomous, ultrafast intercity travel and the doors only open twice, once to let you in and once to let you out. The closest thing to teleportation. Or a private jet experience for the price of a bus ticket.

That’s the long term vision. We obviously have a ton of engineering work to do and will bring attendees up to speed on our engineering progress and milestones reached to date. Our plans for the Hyperloop AVI and platform also incorporate other data services such as vehicle-cloud supply/demand forecasting, rebalancing of connected vehicles between cities (imagine Ubers or Lyfts taking themselves between Chicago and St. Louis when there’s a big rock concert or baseball game), pricing information sharing and emergency/urgent care. As FedEx taught all of us, the information around the package is as important as the package itself. Same goes with autonomous vehicles and their passengers.

Autonomous Machines World: Shout-outs: Any projects/people/technologies that have inspired you lately?

Douglas Chey: I think what’s going on around autonomous vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicles is pretty cool. The vehicles are being developed now, but I think there’s a growing consensus that they won’t get past regulatory approval for at least 10 to 15 years. The issue is safety—things fall out of the sky at high speed—and the need to coordinate a lot of regulatory and software systems among the airlines, consumer drone manufacturers, and the new autonomous VTOL systems makers. I think autonomous ground-based vehicles will get full regulatory approval long before VTOLs will be able to fly in the same airspace as everything else.

Autonomous Machines World: Which burning questions or challenges would you like to discuss with the Autonomous Machines community?

Douglas Chey: I want to talk about how people are thinking through privacy and information sharing across the autonomous space. I’d like to know how people are address multi-modal stations or centers, where cars, metros, bikes, Hyperloops, and everything else can come together as a transfer point to create a better passenger experience.

The Autonomous Machines World team thanks Douglas Chey for his insights and is looking forward to welcoming him as a speaker!