If engineers had their way then cars of the future would be automatically driven. For a country long defined by its soaring aspirations, is India ready for automated driving? Rather more pertinent, are we Indians comfortable in letting go of the wheels?
After all, not every chess player is comfortable with delegating his moves to a computer similarly, not every driver is keen on letting go of his control to the on-board electronics. According to a representative survey conducted by Bosch, in Europe, every second driver is conformable with the possibility of letting their cars do the driving for them.
As much as 52 percent of the respondents believe such functions are both technically feasible and desirable, provided they can also be disabled. Even more significant, approximately 40 percent expect this to result in greater safety. According to an accident research conducted by Bosch, the phrase ‘it is only human to err’ gains increased significance with nine out of ten accidents being caused due to human error.
Objectively speaking the more automation there is, the fewer accidents there will be. On this subject, engineering work is not the only thing the automotive industry has to do. Apart from winning the heart and mind of its customers, the automotive industry has to work towards making people feel conformable with the thought of letting go of the control.
The urgency of the situation cannot be overlooked. Every year, more than a million people have lost their life to road accidents. As per estimates issued by the United Nations (UN), this figure is likely to get as high as 1.9 million by 2020.
This trend is especially grave in emerging markets. Crucial to reducing the number of fatalities on road is the implementation of safety solutions such as the Anti-locking Braking Systems (ABS). The need to mandate ABS is a key cog in the wheel of ensuring vehicular and road safety in our society. Because for one, it avoids by itself a lot of minor accidents like loss of control, skidding and spinning off the road.
Second, it also opens the doors to an array of additional functionalities and capabilities that are also important like stability control, collision mitigation system and lane departure warnings. For a rapidly developing economy such as India, it is crucial that basic safety requirements such as seat belts are enforced strictly.
In developed economies the drastic fall can be attributed to the increased use of electronic anti-skid systems such as ESP. However, globally our roads will only ever be accident-free if vehicles feature even more technical intelligence.
A nation defined by soaring aspiration, the Indian car buyer is increasingly less likely to stand in the way of the spread of further electronic assistants, especially if driver assistance systems were to enhance the levels of comfort apart from guaranteeing safety.
The future will see the Indian automotive market warming up to technologies such as the traffic-jam assistant that automatically brakes, accelerates, and steers in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Highly automated prototypes are already driving on today’s roads – both in Germany and the United States. However, considerable progress still needs to be made before they are ready for series production. More precise sensors are needed, as well as more up-to-date maps.
For such maps, cars will exchange information with central servers over the internet – about things such as icy roads or construction zones. In other words, automated driving will be connected driving. And the on-board electronics architecture must make all this 100 percent reliable.
The computer crashes we grudgingly accept at home cannot and must not happen in moving traffic. Nonetheless, the IT industry will play a considerable role in the future of road traffic. But on its own, it will scarcely be in a position to put computers on wheels.
Automated driving will remain the domain of the automotive industry. The imperative for this industry, just as it is for drivers, is safety first.
Published in Automated Driving for ET Auto (April, 2015)