Autonomous driving in a whole new way: start-up Vay, car sharing

Thomas von der Ohe tells this story almost in passing, but he likes to tell it. How potential investors come to Berlin and are picked up in front of the hotel with a Kia e-Niro. There is a driver behind the wheel, but he never has his hands on the steering wheel and his feet never on the pedals when driving through the capital.

The e-SUV is steered, accelerated and braked by a “teledriver”; an employee sitting in front of three screens in an office in Tempelhof, steering wheel in hand, feet on the accelerator and brake pedal. He controls the car remotely.

Potential sponsors are impressed. And get involved financially with Vay, the Berlin start-up that wants nothing less than to revolutionize driving in metropolises. Vay collected around 128 million euros in the first two rounds of financing.


Young team that has already collected 128 million euros (from left): Fabrizio Scelsi (hardware), Thomas von der Ohe, Bogdan Djukic (software).

The money is to be used to finance the attack on classic taxi or car sharing models. Vay’s offer should be significantly cheaper than about Above, firstly because the user drives himself and secondly because there are no costs for the driver in the car. Vay has not yet given specific customer prices, but they should be comparable with current car sharing offers.

And this is how Vay should work: The customer orders a car via an app. It drives – remotely controlled by the teledriver – in a few minutes without a driver. The customer gets in and then drives himself to the destination. He gets out there without having to look for a parking space. Because now the teledriver takes over again in the office and drives the e-car away. To the Park or to the store.

Five cameras in the Kia

“In 2022 we want to have the first fleet without a driver in the car on Europe’s roads,” says von der Ohe, founder and boss at Vay. Although only 33 years old, he has plenty of experience. Among other things, he has already developed for Zoox, a subsidiary of Amazon, a robot taxi. (2025 autonomous E-Bullis in Hamburg?)

The teledriver at work: three screens, six camera images. The steering wheel is provisional and will not be shown.

The technology consists exclusively of cameras. The Kia has five of these: one centrally above the windshield, two on the A-pillars, two on the back of the roof. This quintet enables a 360-degree all-round view for the tele driver. There is also an antenna and the Kia vehicle sensors. Vay does not need any additional radar or lidar systems. “That makes the system comparatively cheap,” says von der Ohe. The overarching goal of his new company: to make city traffic as safe as possible.

Three and a half years of tests in Hamburg and Berlin

“We didn’t just want to develop the software,” he explains in the workshop in Berlin-Tempelhof. Below are leased Kia cars, and up the stairs employees are tinkering with the hardware. More than 130 people from over 30 countries are currently working for Vay – also in Portland (USA). The young company also gets help from the big names in the scene: ex-Uber Europa boss Niall Wass is on board as chairman in an advisory capacity.

Vay was founded in 2018. The start-up has been testing in Berlin and Hamburg for three and a half years – currently still with a safety driver on public roads. At the disused Tegel Airport without anyone on board. “That’s a huge step for us,” said von der Ohe.

A field test with real customers is to start this year in the east of Hamburg, in the Bergedorf district. According to Vay, the special permits for this are available from the Hamburg Senate and the federal government.

The emergency stop button ensures safe rolling out in the event of danger

Von der Ohe is surprisingly open about the fact that many questions still have to remain unanswered. What about snow? A sudden slick of oil? What if the power goes out in the office or the brakes?


Upgraded Kia e-Niro: Five cameras (three on the roof, two on the A-pillars) provide tele drivers with a 360-degree view.

An emergency stop button next to the three screens ensures that the car rolls out safely in the event of danger (e.g. if the teledriver suddenly gets sick). But then who is going to set up the warning triangle? Von der Ohe smiles. And says that we are working on solutions everywhere.

“Teledrivers,” he believes, “is the job of the future.” The only thing the Vay boss says about the salary is that it is a lucrative employer. The requirements are quite simple: driver’s license, driving practice, maximum two points in Flensburg, theory and practice test. Many tele drivers have completed driving safety exercises at the ADAC.

In the tele-driver’s room, certificates for trained tele-operators hang on the wall next to the eight workstations. However, the certificates have manageable significance. They were exhibited by Vay himself.

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