The role of autonomous driving technology in India

Fully self-driving cars not the right solution for India in the short term

Updated: Apr 26, 2018 12:03:07 PM UTC
Fully self-driving cars use the latest technology within an entire spectrum of autonomous technologies, and the latest technology is not always the most appropriate for a society (Photo: Shutterstock)

I am passionate about technology, and about our company’s work in the automotive industry on autonomous driving. However, I do not see fully self-driving cars as the right solution for India in the short term. Fully self-driving cars use the latest technology within an entire spectrum of autonomous technologies, and the latest technology is not always the most appropriate for a society.

Appropriate technologies are the ones which solve a pressing problem faced by society, or a large part of society. The latest and best technologies are luxuries that a society should pursue if it has addressed all its other pressing problems.

In India, our pressing problems are clean energy, environment and certainty of jobs. Where do fully self-driving cars fit in? Self-driving cars are an example of getting machines to do our work. In principle, it is important to get machines to do our work if the work fits under the 3Ds – Dangerous, Drudgerous and Dirty. If not, automation need not be the highest priority.

When we apply the 3Ds test to fully autonomous driving in India, here is what we see:
1.   Will fully autonomous vehicles solve the problem of clean energy (the dirty test)? Although autonomous driving and clean energy are not mutually exclusive, there are more appropriate technologies that can address clean energy. Low-cost battery, Fuel cell vehicle technologies, and shared vehicles usage technologies should all be higher priorities for now.

2.   The next question is whether fully autonomous vehicles will create jobs or displace jobs. Fully self-driving cars eliminate the need for a driver. In India, we need to create and retain more jobs, so displacing drivers is not necessary.

3.   The last question is about safety. We live in a country where road accidents are a major cause of death. Would autonomous driving make our roads safer? Autonomous Vehicles will certainly make roads safer, but most of the features that make driving safer can be achieved without going in for fully autonomous vehicles. Moreover, in India, we have a lot of work to do including Infrastructure standardisation. Compliance with traffic laws and safety education need to be more commonplace before we have self-driving cars on the road.

The Right Autonomous Technology Direction for India
In categorising automation from Level 0 to Level 5, Level 0 implies no automation, while at Level 5 vehicles are fully automated. We need to work on technologies at Level 3 such as Advanced Driver Assist features that alert drivers to help avoid collisions such as providing lane departure warnings or automatic centering in the lane.

We also need connected, intelligent technologies as these have the potential to transform traffic management in India. A vehicle’s ability to negotiate its environment is informed sensors and intelligence. We can identify potential hazards, anticipate the actions of other drivers, automate braking, and generally be more aware of our environment. Connected, intelligent technologies can leverage our country’s unique strengths, bringing in Indian innovation to solve problems like managing traffic, reducing pollution from petrol or diesel fuel powered vehicles, and increasing parking efficiency and pedestrian safety. These problems call for a high degree of talent in the area of information technology – an area where we have significant leadership. We need to ask ourselves, “how can we build the best algorithms to get the highest intelligence and images from the lowest cost sensors.” That can play a role here.  Let us focus on that.

KPIT is working on many solutions for various market maturities and requirements. For India, a strong set of solutions in Connectivity/ Telematics, Advanced Driver Assist and Green energy powertrains are all applicable and appropriate.

In summary, I believe the appropriate technology is high intelligence algorithm combined with low cost of sensors to address our pressing problems of clean energy, environment and certainty of jobs. Let us not get infatuated by only fully autonomous driving, but instead focus now to develop and apply the most appropriate autonomous driving technologies that will help our country and take advantage of our unique skills and needs.

-By Ravi Pandit, Co-Founder, Chairman & Group CEO, KPIT

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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