Drifting champion tackles Goodwood with VR, 5G and one tiny startup’s tech

Stunt driver Vaughn Gittin Jr. took a Lincoln MKZ through its paces at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, drifting the vehicle and taking it up a signature hill climb. Except Gittin wasn’t in the car.

Donning a Samsung VR headset, Gittin was controlling the vehicle miles away from the Goodwood arena using a teleoperation system developed by Portland, Ore., startup Designated Driver and Vodafone’s 5G network.

The specially equipped Lincoln MKZ, dubbed the S-Drone, is sporting blacked-out windows. The eyes of the vehicle are the numerous Samsung Galaxy S10 5G phones mounted on the roof. Video is transmitted using Vodafone’s 5G network to the Designated Driver remote operating station. That’s where Gittin sits and controls the vehicle.

Samsung Goodwood Designated Driver

Typically, Designated Driver’s remote teleoperations driver would sit in front of six screens and use controls like a steering wheel and pedals to control the vehicle. This demonstration, which was held before the Goodwood event officially began Thursday, took it to the next level by adding virtual reality and the 5G network.

Gittin will stunt drive remotely on July 5 and throughout the weekend in the Goodwood Arena at FOS. Or you can watch a demonstration below.

The marketing around 5G can leave one indifferent to the technology. But 5G does hold a lot of promise for autonomous vehicles and teleoperations systems. Remote-controlling a vehicle requires instantaneous and constant flow of video and inputs from the vehicle. It simply won’t work safely or consistently if there’s even a second of lag time. A latency-free video connection is critical to properly executing such an operation.

“We’ve pioneered state of the art teleops technology by leveraging 5G,” Designated Driver CEO Manuela Papadopol said. “We’re proud to push boundaries for mobility.”

The demonstration at Goodwood aims to show how 5G can erase those concerns and become a critical technology for safety-critical applications like remote driving a vehicle. It’s also the latest test of Designated Driver’s tech. The startup recently remotely controlled a vehicle at Goodwood from its offices in Portland, Ore., some 5,000 miles and an ocean away. The company believes this was the world’s first transatlantic teleoperations demonstration.

This techcentric demonstration might seem out of place at the annual hill climb event, where human-driven vehicles wind their way through narrow hay and brick-lined passages. The future is trickling into this historic event. Last year, Roborace became the first self-driving vehicle to successfully complete the hill climb, albeit with a bit more caution than the human-driven vehicles.