Connected cars on the horizon: Is India ready?

With the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AR) and machine learning set to define the way Indian enterprises work, “connected” vehicles — which are to embrace all of these new-age technologies — is the new buzz in town.

Tata Motors showcased “Tamo Racemo”, India’s first connected sports car, at the Geneva International Motor Show on March 10.

Using Tata’s innovative MOFlex platform, the two-seater vehicle has been developed in partnership with Microsoft India, leveraging the company’s connected vehicle technologies on Azure cloud.

At the same time, Reliance Jio Infocomm has tied up with US-based AirWire Technologies (AirWire) to make its connected car device soon available to the Indian users.

Plugged to the vehicle’s OBD-II (On-board diagnostics II) port over a cable, the device seamlessly uploads key vehicle data to the cloud for analysis and enables convenient and useful apps and services to the consumer’s smartphone.

The device can immobilise the vehicle in case of theft, alert the owner about car movement and also locate the car. It can provide vital information like oil stats, tyre pressure, water level, fuel info and battery change alerts.

The buzz is happening. It is always good to start experimenting with vehicles, but are we ready, say, even for minimal adoption, if not at the mass level, of such vehicles?

“To some extent, yes. With self-driving vehicles, there are two important points of contact to reckon with — one, the eco system or V2X and, two, within the vehicle environment,” said Moushumi Mohanty, Director, Analysis Publishing, who drives its e-mobility business.

Connectivity with the ecosystem is summarised as V2X (which includes V2V, V2G — vehicle to vehicle, vehicle to grid, vehicle to pedestrian and so on).

First, information from within the vehicle can be something as important as thermal management of its systems or tire pressure and, second, information without could be crash avoidance technology or parking assist.

“Clearly, number 2 has the potential to contribute to making our roads safer. Number 1 is dependent on variables — other connected vehicles and on infrastructure. In India, in the beginning, we could start with limited deployment corridors where such vehicles can do trial runs until we can provide an eco-system for them to operate efficiently,” Mohanty told IANS.

According to studies, the global revenues from “connected” cars — the precursor to fully-autonomous or self-driving cars — are growing at an annual rate of 27.5 per cent and are expected to touch $21 billion by 2020. This is still minuscule when compared to the revenues of just one auto maker, say, Toyota, which are in excess of $250 billion.

Google’s self-driving cars uses LiDAR (light-sensing radar) — a remote sensing technology that uses lasers to map out the world around it. The light reflected from the laser beaming on objects is measured to determine the distance between the car and its surroundings.

Currently, 100 such self-driving cars are on the road in Pittsburgh in the US while the city of San Francisco — where the experiments first began — has banned such vehicles for lack of a legal framework.

On the other hand, US automaker Tesla is using high-end ultrasonic camera sensors and a forward-facing RADAR system to help its semi-autonomous Autopilot system.

This is surely the way the future lies and many countries are creating the infrastructure necessary for connected cars and, eventually, fully-autonomous cars.

Is India charting the same path?

“I think Indian roads are not yet ready for such vehicles. Let us first focus on our infamous road safety, regulate haphazard parking and driving and then come to connected cars. It is good to start experimenting with self-driving cars but we are a long way from even minimal adoption,” Mumbai-based transport expert Rishi Aggarwal told IANS.

For Faisal Kawoosa, Principal Analyst (Telecoms) at CyberMedia Research (CMR), conceptually there is no issue with “connected” cars for India.

“However, integration of technology with the existing infrastructure is always challenging. We have the classic example of BRTs. The geographies of India are such that we cannot turnaround things overnight and so have implementations that are brown-field in nature. So, it’s not going to be an easy task,” Kawoosa told IANS.

According to Mohanty, a self-driving vehicle or even a part self-driving one takes control of the wheels, be it in a situation to avoid a crash or even when it is using the parking-assist function.

“Clearly, to have law-abiding machines running on the roads, we will have to rethink and rewrite a number of our automotive laws in which we will allow machines to take on the wheel,” she emphasised.

The number of areas this is likely to affect is multiple — insurance, traffic management and asset ownership, to name a few. Nevertheless, the convenience that connected vehicle technology offers is unprecedented. “Why do we need to own a car if we can just call for one whenever required,” Mohanty shrugged.

Safety is also a prime concern as malicious hacking of systems of fully-autonomous cars can cause massive damage.

“This is an area where government needs to play a critical role in framing a road map. At the outset, we need to provide robust, secure connectivity and then we may think of warding off threats from hackers,” Krishna Mukherjee, an analyst with CMR, noted.


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