The Rise of Autonomous Cars In India

Let’s talk cases first. Google was the first company to launch self-driving cars. Tesla Motors, General Motors and Ford soon followed suit. Uber, the on-demand car player last year announced a $300 million deal with Swedish car maker Volvo to develop fully driverless, or autonomous, cars by 2021. The company acquired Otto, a San Francisco based startup focused on self-driving trucks.

Consider the Indian scenario and why India direly needs autonomous vehicles. Even if we leave aside the deadly traffic jams and congested roads, India ranks 3rd in terms of deaths due to road accidents. There is one death every four minutes due to a road accident in India. Moreover, 20 children under the age of 14 die everyday due to road accidents. Experts say, autonomous, IoT enabled cars have the potential to bring down the number of car accidents to a great extent.

Human follies have no role to play when driving is done by intelligent machines. The day may not be that far considering – The Indian Internet of Things (IoT) market is set to grow to $15 billion by 2020 from the current $5.6 billion, according to a report by NASSCOM.

However, many opine that, from a market perspective, it seems more challenging to have autonomous cars in India, than let’s say Europe or the US. Then there is the legal scenario as well as to which country will draw up a legal framework to make autonomous driving a reality. The potential for autonomous cars in India is surely huge with IT and analytics skills needed to fuel the developments in the direction. India has tons of that.

India, a new entrant in connected car segment-

Though a new entrant in the connected car segment, India has great potential as it needs connectivity on the go. This connectivity is required for basic aspects such as tracking of, vehicles and providing travelers with customized services. For it to take shape, a strong synergy between auto companies, telecom providers and cloud service providers is required. The scope of growth is huge as it will open up new channels of revenue for everyone involved in the connectivity value chain – be map providers. Web application developers, mobile operators, enterprise application specialists and VAS providers. Mobile technology will further catapult this growth curve. As per TRAI data, India has one billion mobile phones and mobile internet is fast surpassing broadband.

For the connected car and autonomous vehicle market to evolve, there is a need of bundling all these offerings into the ecosystem for seamless functioning of bandwidth allocation, storage and content management. In the end, connected vehicles must be productive.

Dr Roshy John, a robotics professional had already designed an autonomous vehicle that had been tested on Indian road. He virtually simulated a Tata Nano using algorithms that would suit Indian road conditions. He used laser scanners in place of expensive sensors. He included pedal assistance, 3D simulation and driver psychology. His autonomous model can differentiate between static and dynamic vehicles. This model is not yet commercialized though.

Cyber Media Research, a research firm is of the view that it will take another generation to make autonomous vehicle transportation network viable for low automated regions such as India. As per studies, global revenues from “connected cars” the forerunner to fully autonomous or self-driving cars — are growing at an annual rate of 27.5 per cent and are expected to touch $21 billion by 2020.

For an autonomous vehicle to be effective, data is the most important factor. The timely collection, processing and sharing of data or information between vehicles and within vehicles would be imperative for it to function smoothly. For autonomous vehicles to be successful, infrastructure, laws, regulations, traffic systems, emergency response systems, manufacturing systems, data and information handling and processing systems needs to undergo swift advancement. Though this is viable, in India, completely removing the human touch is a tough thing to do. There is a large workforce of drivers and mechanics who would need to be placed in other jobs, before we can practically look at such innovations.

In autonomous vehicles, safety is also an important concern. Cyber attacks and hacking can cause huge damage to autonomous vehicles. Autonomous vehicle manufacturers should make it a point to come up with strong cyber security measures to safeguard vehicle owners of such attacks. It may be take a decade for mass adoption of driverless vehicles to take place.  

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Pranshu Gupta

Pranshu Gupta, is the founder and CEO, Trak N Tell, a Gurgaon-based Information Technology services company that provides sophisticated vehicle telematics solutions. A software engineer by training with a passion for automobiles, Pranshu combines his deep knowledge of both fields to create innovative products. A Computer Engineering graduate, he has worked with the likes of Yahoo, Exxon Exploration Company, among others. He moved back to India in 2003 to set up his first venture, Pran Enterprises and later founded Bits N Bytes Soft Private Limited in May 2007 and subsequently, incepted Trak N Tell.