Autonomous cars, or self-driving cars as they are popularly called, are no longer a subject of fiction. Global companies such as Uber, Tesla and Google have made giant strides towards developing efficient self-driving vehicles.
The general notion is that self-driving cars are first-world technology.
For India, these cars may be a few years away, but for now, there are several companies and researchers who are using cutting-edge technology to make Indian roads safer and smarter.
Why it’s necessary in the first place?
India has one of the highest numbers of road accidents in the world. According to a report released by the Union road transport and highways ministry, the country witnessed 7 deaths and 55 road accidents every hour in 2016. A World Bank estimate suggests road accidents hurt India’s 3% of its gross domestic product every year.
How modern technology can help
While the government is focusing on stricter enforcement of transportation laws, modern technology driven by Big Data and machine learning can also play a big part in ensuring road safety. Even though at a nascent stage, some researchers have made giant strides in this direction.
The first crop of this technology focuses on ‘Advance Driver Assistive Systems’ (ADAS), a human-machine interface that uses advanced sensors to track surroundings to alert the driver about potential problems such as collision. ADAS is most likely to become a standard feature in vehicles in the coming years.
Another piece of hardware that is being significantly improved is On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) scanner that analyses data from the vehicle, such as mileage statistics and maintenance alerts. OBD devices are already becoming increasingly common in modern cars.
Essentially, a combination of hardware, modern sensors along with machine learning and data analysis can help in a big way.
Implementing cutting-edge technology
Back in 2000, India’s largest passenger car manufacturer Maruti Suzuki India formed a joint venture with the transport department of multiple states to set up the Institute of Driving and Traffic Research (IDTR). The venture focuses on making Indian roads safer.
IDTR is now using Microsoft’s HAMS (Harnessing AutoMobiles for Safety), an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven solution that uses low-cost technology to ensure road safety. The system essentially uses the rear and front cameras, GPS and inertial sensors of a dashboard-mounted mobile phone along with an On-Board Diagnostics (OBD-II) scanner, the device that reads the data from the vehicle’s computer.
“Much of this data is processed locally on the smartphone itself, with an Azure-based backend being used for aggregating and visualizing the processed data. The front-camera of the smartphone looks at the driver, the back camera looks out to the front of the vehicle and based on the raw data obtained from the sensors, HAMS detects various events of interest such as driver distraction, fatigue and gaze tracking, as well as vehicle ranging, which determines whether a safe separation distance is being maintained with the vehicles in front,” Microsoft explains on its website.
Gaze tracking “enables analysing mirror scanning behaviour, for example, to detect episodes when a driver stares ahead for a prolonged period, thereby failing to maintain awareness of their surroundings.”
HAMS is currently being used by ITDR to revisit the footage and analytics after every training session to send a feedback to their students. But use case for HAMS goes beyond just driver training. Microsoft believes the technology can be deployed for actual issuance of driver licence or parents can use it to monitor the driving of their teenage children.
Microsoft’s HAMS, however, is not the only driver assistive technology in the works.
CEANTRA Technologies, a Delhi-based startup, is developing a connected car Operating System (OS) around its Smart CarX, a connected vehicle platform that enables monitoring of vehicle health, better road safety and data driven online driver marketplace.
“Based on the real-time Internet of Things data analytics, it is integrated with hardware-software and developed by the Ceantra to facilitate preventive car maintenance and online analysis of car driver driving behaviour. In addition, the device will capture engine-related performance parameters from any vehicle that is Euro IV compliant, initially,” said the company in a note.
“To make it operational, the Smart CarX device is plugged into the car’s OBD port, the Smart CarX app is installed on the mobile and it starts locating the vehicle’s mileage, location and health insights once the vehicle is driven. SmartCarX Hardware has powerful Microcontrollers, GPS, GPRS, and a host of advanced sensors. The various sensors and peripherals that attach it to the vehicle, transmit the data real time to the central server,” it added.
“We are developing everything from scratch, including hardware and software. As far as self-driving cars go, there has to be infrastructure and robust ecosystem. What we see is that assistive systems can complement to the future technology. Such technology can be integrated within the cars and can help drivers who have to drive for longer period of time, say 6 hours or 7 hours,” Rajeev Tiwari, founder of CEANTRA Technologies told Hindustan Times.
Gurgaon-based The Hi-Tech Robotics Systemz claims to have a “market leadership” in automated vehicles and driver assistive technology in India. The company also has a few prototypes of its autonomous vehicle ready. Last year, it demoed a self-driving shuttle prototype ‘Novus Drive’ at last year’s Auto Expo.Ritukar Vijay, Head of Autonomous Technologies & Business Strategy, HRS said that the company was already in talks with various car OEMs for the implementation of its own version of driver assistive system. He stressed that the big push to this technology will come from a wider adoption by OEMs and the government.