Early today, Audi was caught testing an autonomous version of the A6 Avant station wagon on Delhi roads. This driverless car won’t really be sold in India but will serve as a test-bed for many interesting semi-autonomous technologies such as adaptive cruise control and automatic parking. These technologies will eventually be offered on upcoming Audi cars in India.
In India, the government is yet to formulate a policy for autonomous vehicle driving technology. This is also why many semi-autonomous driving functions using radar (Radar is classified as a defense-only technology in India) that are already available on the W222 Mercedes Benz S-Class are currently unavailable in India. The Indian government has gone a step further (or should it be backwards?), with its Minister of Highways & Road Transport, Nitin Gadkari, asserting that ‘driverless cars won’t be allowed in India as they’ll cause job-losses’.
Indian roads are currently quite haphazard in terms of signage and traffic is chaotic. Lakhs of road deaths each year, many due to the roads themselves, is the result. To function properly, Self-driving/autonomous cars need clearly defined road infrastructure with reasonably orderly traffic – both currently unavailable in almost all parts of India. Why, Uber’s former CEO Travis Kalanick (a proponent of driverless car tech) and Google’s Sundar Pichai both have gone on record to state that driverless cars won’t work in India.
All hope’s not lost for driverless cars on Indian roads. Tata Motors has deputed one of its technology companies to work on developing driverless car technology that will work in India. In fact, the company is recreating crowded and chaotic road conditions at its test facility in Bangalore to finetune driverless car technology for India. Individual innovators from India such as Roshy John of Kochi, and Fisheyebox, a Kolkata-based startup comprising six people, have built driverless car prototypes keeping Indian conditions in mind.
Carnegie Mellon fellow and former entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa, is another contrarian who’s said that driverless cars are essential for India. Here’s what he said,
Driverless cars would have fewer accidents and the electric cars would start and they would have less pollution. India desperately needs that because traffic is in such a mess. It would happen region by region and city by city and neighbourhood by neighbourhood.
So, what do you think? Are driverless cars ready for India, or rather, are Indian roads ready for driverless cars? The answer we feel, is somewhere in between.