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Self-driving cars in India, impossible to dream?

It’s a no-brainer that any rider would love to have an auto-driving car – who doesn’t love to sit and enjoy instead of fighting the traffic? I know that automotive industries like Tesla, BMW, and others are already working on this and also have been slowly integrating autonomous functions into their new car models. And then recently I’ve come across an article regarding Google’s Waymo Project (a bit late to the party, sorry) and experiences from its users. I was amazed at their reactions. I never realized how far technology has come (in the auto field) and I honestly never thought a hundred percent automation of this driving process could be a reality.

The Waymo article I was referring to, was about Waymo One – a part of the Waymo project which is a commercial self-driving service (basically an Uber with no driver).

It is still in the testing phase and is limited to the Phoenix Metropolitan Area as of now. It is still not perfect and has its fair share of issues, but on the brighter side, it still works! Imagine the possibilities once Waymo perfects the service and grows beyond Phoenix. I would imagine the disabled and the aged would be the top beneficiaries. And yes, there could be a huge loss of jobs in future if this project gets successful, but hey, you’ve gotta roll with the punches.

After watching this video, I couldn’t help but wonder when I’d see such a car in India. I reckon it’d be a long wait. As of now, the Waymo One faces a severe backlash from the Pheonix locals. Given the disruptive nature of the car, it is pretty obvious that the backlash will be universal and that Waymo has a long hard battle ahead.

Before I get to the pith of the matter, let me classify the self-driving/autonomous cars into two broad categories,

  • Completely auto-driving cars like the Waymo
  • Partial auto-driving featured cars like Tesla, BMW, Audi etc.

The second type cars, which I haven’t talked about so far, hardly have any negativity around them. These cars offer features such as steering-control and speed control during a highway drive. They are less ‘robots taking over humanity’ and more bleeding edge of technology infused with luxury. Most of these cars are meant for individual consumers and do not impact the cab-driving industry. 

Watch the video below for reference.

Is India ready for self-driving cars?

Any self-driving cars, be it the type 1 or type 2, work on algorithms. People from the automobile companies ride these cars in simulated environments and have them learn how to react to different situations. This process is called training. The more the car is trained, the better is the algorithm and hence the final system.

Every time I see a video regarding automobiles, I see “drive these cars in India, you will lose” sort of comments. I partially agree to them about bad driving in India (due to not-so-strict license policy or recklessness or bribery-go-easy or whatever it may be). But I suppose the more serious issue is the roads. And I’m not just talking about the asphalt or tarmac part. These autonomous cars read the traffic signs along the road, and make use of GPS, etc. to adjust their speed and to follow the rules. And I’m not sure all national highways in India have proper traffic signalling and GPS availability.

That is not to say India will never be ready. From my travel experiences, most highways are fine – maybe not type 1-fine but type 2 could certainly be possible. Of course, that would be preceded by several years of rigorous training and proper understanding of the Indian highways.

Considering the government’s decision, bad drivers and all the other issues, I reckon it is too soon to be talking about autonomous cars in India. However, they can be introduced in idealistic environments like inside large IT Parks where the roads do not require much training and hopefully not much attention to traffic is required – consider it Beta testing.

How can self-driving cars impact India?

In 2013, more than 130K people died on the Indian roads, and many more were injured. This is one of the core points on which the Waymo had been built. The reasons for deaths could be indiscipline driving, driving for long periods, etc. With self-driving cars, I believe (Waymo too) these number will go down. Autonomous cars also tend to increase carpooling which could solve India’s traffic woes.

The Earth Institute at Columbia University estimates that autonomous vehicles would encourage more car-sharing, reducing the number of vehicles on city streets by one-third to one-half and enabling a 75 percent drop in car ownership.

Source – Washington Post

On the negative side, loss of jobs, security risks, privacy etc. As I told earlier, I believe the loss of jobs due to technology advancements is inevitable and it is a part of human evolution. And security risks and privacy are a real concern, which may make the vehicle behavior catastrophic if not addressed.

After all the discussions put forth, I still feel type 2 could be a real possibility in India – soon, at that. I reckon type 1 cars still have a long way to go in general, let alone in India. Should take upward of 10 years to even begin testing after the Government’s approval in India. That said, I cannot wait for the autonomous wave that is going to take over the world, and know that I, for one, will be waiting with bated breath to see where technology takes us next. Exciting times! Anyway, that is all for now. See you folks in the next post.

Written by Suryanarayana Murthy

Computer Grad. Web Nerd. Tech Enthusiast. I run this blog ?

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