Using the flaws of self-driving cars to transform a nation

The magnificent Tesla Model S. Source: Tesla

With more and more companies jumping on the autonomous vehicle bandwagon, the (almost sci-fi like) vision of completely self-driving vehicles is just around the corner. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of enthusiasm for autonomous vehicles in India. Quoting India’s minister for Road Transport, Highways, and Shipping,

“We won’t allow driverless cars in India. I am very clear on this. We won’t allow any technology that takes away jobs.”

There are several merits and demerits of the above argument. But let’s overlook that for a minute. Let us consider what would happen if India were to adopt autonomous vehicles with the same zest as its space program.

Better roads

No doubt, there are plenty of well-constructed roads in India. However, ‘bumpy’, ‘unclean’ and ‘ephemeral’ are the (stereotypical) words that come to mind when discussing Indian roads.

Source: keywordsuggest.org

There is no way (pun intended) that autonomous vehicles would be able to drive on these roads. If they were to, they would need dedicated sensors to map the roads, detect bumps and avoid them. To introduce autonomous vehicles in India, better roads would have to be paved. Similarly, the vehicle manufacturers would need to develop software to tackle the worst of Indian roads. It’s a win-win.

Obviously, the above scenario neglects finances. But the above scenario can be miniaturized. Allocate a section of city where self-driving cars can function. Or, allow companies to test their cars on road sections.

Better driving conditions

“ I cannot fathom how vehicles converge at any given point from all directions at the same time and no one hits anyone. They all move away smoothly. Thank goodness, I do not drive on Indian roads.”

Lewis Hamilton, Formula 1 driver

Source: Sharda University

The current driving conditions in India are immensely stressful. Despite the best efforts of the government, bikers are unwilling to wear helmets; car drivers refuse to wear seat belts. Consequently, there is an urgent need of reform in this area.

If every car, bus and rickshaw (those yellow things) in the above image was automatized, imagine the consequences — drastic reduction in accident rates, less frequent traffic jams, safer roads for bikers, and greater adherence to traffic laws.

In the next 5–10 years, autonomous cars will be effective enough to drive to allow a person to drive to a destination without putting their hands on the steering. By encouraging the development of such vehicles in India, employment opportunities will be created. Companies will need experienced software, hardware engineers. Also, drivers of taxis and rickshaws can team up with the companies to create a solution for the toughest roads.

The above points are highly speculative, almost Utopian. In reality, introducing self-driving cars will be an extremely challenging task, both for the government as well as companies. Challenging — yes. Rewarding — yes. Progressive — yes. But for a country who has never hesitated to adopt new technologies, and with a myriad past of ancient developers, engineers and scientists, it does not make any sense to just sit back and watch.

A lifelong learner.

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