While companies around the world are driving resources and research towards driverless technology, the current adoption of autonomous technology in India is limited to cruise control and the development of V2V systems. Why? Because autonomous driving technology requires good infrastructure, in-depth vehicle driving data, and robust internet connectivity – and gaps in these areas can give rise to significant barriers that impact the efficacy and adoption.
Take, for instance, the intracity road infrastructure and the unique challenges of on-road mobility in the country. Roads, even in top metropolises such as Delhi and Mumbai, remain riddled with potholes. Stray animals such as dogs and cows regularly find their way onto the road while most pedestrians are in the habit of playing a daring game of ‘catch me if you can’ with onrushing traffic.
There are many instances of drivers not obeying the traffic rules, while many of the vehicles found on Indian roads – such as crude motorized units put together by users from low-income groups – are unique to the country. These challenges are not new to anyone who has spent any time travelling on Indian roads, but they do present a significant hurdle to the deep learning technology that is crucial for autonomous driving.
The country also lags in terms of internet-connected car technology, one of the building blocks for autonomous driving technology. Real-time data transmission is critical to ensuring a successful and safe implementation of autonomous driving technology. While telecom providers such as Vodafone-Idea, Airtel, and Reliance Jio are already providing machine-to-machine (M2M) communications solutions, the primary problem remains that high-speed internet connectivity is so far accessible to only a small percentage of the population.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also posed certain financial challenges. In a survey by IHS Markit, 92% of industry experts indicated that research and development budgets of companies could shrink globally, primarily impacting e-mobility and autonomous deployments. Furthermore, the regulations around driving and car safety have moved slowly in the country, with critical safety essentials such as crash testing only just gaining importance.
Despite these hurdles, the introduction of autonomous driving technology could have multifold benefits that are likely to find favor in the Indian market. It has the potential to increase road safety by enabling greater standardization of driving conditions. Fuel and parking efficiency are also likely to increase as autonomous vehicles – connected as they will be to real-time traffic data, on-road conditions, and parking space availability – will ensure that people spend less time and fuel on traveling, especially during daily commutes.
This, in turn, will drastically cut down vehicular emissions and curb the burning issue of air pollution that plagues most cities in India. The introduction of the technology could also reduce the dependency on metro trains, public buses, and such, easing the burden on a public transport system that can be called overstressed, at best. Autonomous driving technology will also tie in with the government’s ‘Smart Cities Mission’ and provide a fertile foundation for the creation of a smart, more tech-enabled nation.
In light of these opportunities, vehicle manufacturers are beginning to invest heavily in the research and development of autonomous driving capabilities. However, to make autonomous driving a success in India, car technology companies are also working to find unique solutions for the country’s diverse conditions. This will only come with greater public exposure to the benefits of autonomous driving, as well as igniting stimulating conversations about the impact of the technology on India, its citizens, and its economy.
Players in the autonomous driving space will also need to test and adapt the technology for different India-specific use-cases to make a compelling argument for its adoption. Regulatory intervention can play a critical role in boosting people’s confidence in driverless technology. Concerted efforts of public and private stakeholders will be the key to unlocking a progressive, prosperous, and healthy future for all Indians on the back of the adoption of sustainability-led practices on personal, professional, and national levels.
The benefits of scale in case of successful future adoption, in a country of 1.38 billion people, are massive. While there remain several challenges, the opportunity to redefine the mobility landscape in India by creating an ecosystem powered by autonomous driving technology is right there. The time is ripe – all that is needed is a concerted effort from all stakeholders, from manufacturers and tech companies to regulators, to capitalize on this paradigm-changing development and make autonomous driving a tangible reality for the mass consumer.
Srinivas Chitturi, CEO, MTAP Technologies
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