Self-Driving Cars: What's The Solution For India?

Chandrashekhar Tallapragada, CTO, Pyro Telecom Solutions Having over 22 years of experience in the Telecom industry, Chandrashekhar has been associate with Pyro for over nine years now, prior to which he had been associated with multionational companies such as Ericsson, Nokia, Vodafone and more.

We have been hearing about it for a long time now. Most of the developed countries which are implementing Autonomous/Self-driving cars are doing it for mainly three purposes(important ones): Convenience, Safety/security and Reduced driver costs(in case of taxis) and of course, the connectivity and technologies like AI supporting the ecosystem with promising developments in Telecommunications/IoT and Computing.

If the car can drive itself, it brings convenience (avoiding hassles of driving in traffic/parking and hence avoid physical and mental stress/fatigue), long journeys can be more entertaining and productive. If we are talking about Taxi which drives by itself then it brings in Safety/security (against threats caused by human drivers as we saw in the past few major criminal offenses). Taxi companies like Uber who are working hard to launch Autonomous cabs can save huge cost of the driver by making it driver less, those savings can be passed on to the consumer and provide the service at a cheaper cost.

But do all of these benefits apply to Indian scenario? A country like ours (and few other developing countries) with such a huge population where the traffic etiquettes and discipline are different, the number of pedestrians or even animals and two wheelers on the road, the condition of the roads itself (potholes, roadwork with weather confusing the road and traffic planning, VIP road diversion, unplanned diversions, human traffic policing etc.) are totally different compared to most of the developed countries and hence pose different challenges compared to other countries. Industry experts say that India would be the last country to get an autonomous/self-driving taxi. So, looking a little deeper into the benefits of the Autonomous cars in an Indian scenario, out of the main benefits that developed nations are looking for what exactly is applicable for India?

Convenience: Yes, definitely. Not just saving you from the stress of driving in cities with so many traffic jams, may be the car can pick your kids from school(or disabled and elderly persons who can’t drive). Make long journeys more relaxed and entertaining and also more productive.

Safety/Security: Yes, many incidents have happened with Taxis where the drivers misused loneliness of especially the woman passengers for their advantage and caused severe damage to the confidence and safety concerns to all of us.

Cost Saving: This is a debatable topic, as compared to Western world where drivers earn decent amount by driving Taxis. In India, on an average, a driver makes anywhere between 8000Rs. and 20,000Rs, which is not a very big amount compared to what extra we would have invested in making a car Self Driving. Many of the components used in autonomous cars are very expensive currently like LiDars etc.). More over the AI/ML algorithms to learn the Indian driving
conditions might take a very long time.

Many of the technological advancements that are happening elsewhere cannot be directly applied in India because of a big fear of creating huge unemployment. Some industry experts commented about this aspect being a bigger threat in India than any other issue concerned with technology.

Living in an era where driver assisted self-driving cars are already a reality, a remote driven car can help India achieve much progress

So, is there a solution which can provide all the benefits of the Selfdriving cars and at the same time address the concerns for Indian scenario?

I would like to talk about a hybrid solution(or approach) for Self-driving cars in India. how about a Remote Driving Car? I mean a Car which is Driverless but having a driver sitting and driving from a remote location. A car which can be driven remotely using the same connectivity technology like the Selfdriving cars (may be 5G)and equipped with 360 degrees high resolution quick cameras(or computer vision) and sensors, live streaming of the audio/video to a remote location situated anywhere. A remote control center which emulates the real feel to the remote driver as if he/she is sitting in the car though situated very far in reality.

To introduce the topic clearly, I will talk about two examples: a Taxi and a consumer owned Remote Driving Car.

Let us say a taxi company has a Driver Control Center DCC(like a call center) where trained and certified drivers are driving a car which is assigned to them.

The Driver Control Center has a simulated car kind of environment where the realtime Audio/Video from the Remote car is streamed on to the screens and speakers. The Driver has all the required controls like Steering, Brakes (or even gears), horn, indicators, headlights and access to speak to the passenger in the car or any traffic cop outside the car if required.

A customer of this Taxi company uses a Mobile-App to book a cab like we do now with Uber or Ola and a nearby Remote Driven Car is assigned and details are shared with the customer in the same way. At the Driver Control Center a driver is assigned this ride along with a car which was either parked somewhere near or just finished a ride. He takes the car to the location of the customer, customer gets in and the ride starts. They can communicate with each other for any guidance to destination or anything else.

The Driver sitting in DCC is able to see the actual road and follow any manual traffic signals, can avoid potholes, temporary diversions or unexpected obstacles or weather related issues like water logging etc. Anyone honking from behind or side will be heard by him, he can use every gadget or indicators just as if he is in the car. Once destination is reached, the customer pays when the ride is concluded. The same car is assigned to another ride or parked at the nearest parking lot to wait for next ride or taken back to the garage for charging or refueling.

This can provide all the benefits of self-driving cars that we discussed earlier and also add to them by being independent of the Artificial Intelligence getting more adapted to Indian scenario. Drivers can work by sitting at one place (a DCC near to their home) and work in their convenient shifts if required. Taxi companies can ensure uniformity of service than depend on the driver and his wish and will (like it happens now sometimes). Driving taxi can become a white collared job as less physical strain is involved and continuous monitoring by supervisors and training them to be more professionals. May be few drivers might opt for an hourly job(as part time opportunity) to add to their current earnings or even students pursuing higher education can earn their fees and expenses. Surely, this can create huge number of jobs and bring in a lot more traffic discipline in the country.

As another example, if the car maker is selling a Remote driven car along with a driving kit (say a portable kit which can be plugged to a TV or a computer which gives a small DCC facility) which can be installed at home or office. A customer buying such a car installs one at the home/office and can take control of his/her car remotely and start driving it whenever required to drop/pick his kids from school or drive parents or the disabled based on need that too without stepping out from his/her office. Just imagine if the car makers make standardization of the DCC and start selling it as an accessory so that people who want to get certified and earn credibility can become work from home drivers and earn while sitting at home. Sounds like a mild science fiction but we are living in an era where driver assisted self-driving cars are already a reality and fully self-driving cars are very close, so a Remote Driven Car can help India achieve the progress very soon.