Image courtesy: Grendel Khan, Wiki Commons
There is a lot of buzz surrounding driverless cars today. MIT spin-off technology startup company nuTonomy has created history by initiating world’s first public, self-driving taxi pilot program in Singapore’s One-north business district. In Pittsburg, California, customers can summon a self-driving Uber using their phones, which will be supervised by humans in the driver’s seat for the time being. Even non-automotive companies such as Google and Apple are putting considerable efforts into this. The world has already witnessed its first accident involving a driverless car.
Tesla, Ford, the list of companies venturing into this driverless initiative is long. Many cities including Amsterdam, London and Canada already have specific self-driving vehicles initiatives underway.
In India, a robotics engineer, Dr Roshy John has designed and launched India’s first autonomous car by altering Tata Nano, the entry level car from Tata Motors.
But are Indian cities ready for a driverless car? “The traffic conditions in most of the Indian cities are really bad and erratic,”says Dr John, in a video on making of his Tata Nano-based driverless car. “Things become even worse, when there is so much of construction and new development happening,” he adds.
According to a World health Organization report, 90 percent of the world's road traffic deaths occur in developing countries. In 2013, India recorded the highest number of deaths involving car accidents. As many as 17 people die every hour due to road accidents in India.
In such a scenario, driverless cars may only compound the problem further.
But that does not deter Indians from looking forward to it enthusiastically. According to an online, in-depth survey conducted in ten countries last year by World Economic Forum in association with Boston Consulting Group, 56% of Indian respondents said that they would take a ride in a fully automated self-driving car. Some 50% of Indian consumers are even ready to pay more for a fully autonomous self-driving car.
The popularity of driverless cars in India is also driven by its promise to help the traffic situation. If we take human emotions and errors out of the equation, autonomous cars can reduce the accidental deaths by 90%, says a report.
However, unlike Singapore, which has a long history of public and private support for driverless-car research, development and testing, India has no such bearings to boast of. Moreover, Singapore’s modern infrastructure, flat terrain and well-marked roads are hardly a comparison to the condition of road infrastructure in Indian cities.
In a report released by National League of Cities last year, it was found that only 6 percent of cities in the world are considering the potential effects of driverless car technology in their current long-term transportation plans.
City of Ann Arbor is one of them. For more than a year, over 2,800 connected vehicles traveled Ann Arbor’s streets, in a bid to share information with the city’s traffic lights and road sensors.
Can Indian cities do the same?
Can you imagine riding in a self-driving car through a problematic intersection in India where the traffic signal isn’t working properly? A lot of things such as traffic systems, regulations, infrastructure, emergency response systems as well as data systems, need to be relooked before real driversless carss run in Indian roads. Consumers will also have to prepare for a digital overhaul, the absence of a driver and the lack of control.
From a technology consideration, driverless cars may be ready, but as a country, we may yet to travel some distance.