Living true to its tag of the ‘Silicon Valley of India’, Bengaluru may be the city which makes the first driverless car from India. A video uploaded earlier this week by Ashwin Mahesh, a city-based entrepreneur, offered a glimpse into one such endeavour by a company called BTI-Flux. The company, other than building autonomous cars from scratch, is also working on an autonomous driving-kit that can be retrofitted to existing automobiles.
In the brief video shot from the backseat, it shows how a regular car is wired up to a computer, to make it driverless. The vehicle mostly moves in a straight path and the steering wheel adjusts to the minor bends of the road on its own. The software, which controls the movement of the car, is aided by cameras and other sensors.
“As the video shows, we are at a fairly advanced stage and the development cycle is mostly done. We now need to test till we get to the final product. We are at the foundation stage of that. The next step for us is obstacle tracking and avoidance. We have already made the system ready to read traffic signs, signals and even animals and now we have to test those aspects,” Angad Gadgil, head of operations and spokesperson of the company, told TNM.
“We are looking at a timeline of two years before we are ready to hit the market. The idea is to make the cars safer than those being driven by a human driver as it can never be under influence, can’t be fatigued and it will never compromise on rules,” he added.
Speaking with TNM, Mahesh said that members of the BTI-Flux team approached him asking if they could use one of Lithium’s older cars to test their retrofitting kit. Lithium is a company set up by Mahesh which offers electric cabs on a B2B (business to business) basis.
“This is my limited role in this project, which is mainly just encouraging them. As things stand, the final product might take two years’ time to come up. The video clearly shows that it is possible to drive a car with software as we have seen elsewhere. The next question is how good is it and how will it fare with obstacles,” he said.
Stating that it may still be difficult for such cars to hit the streets of Bengaluru, he says that they can be put to use in conditioned settings like airports, ports, college campuses and other similar areas where paths are fixed.
“There are very specific movement corridors. For example, these self-driving cars can be used to bring a vehicle from the parking lot to the passenger terminal. It will maybe even work inside company and college campuses where people need to move back and forth. I think in these areas, we can expect to see them in about two years,” Mahesh said.
He further added that with time and investment, the technology will only get better.
Other than the mobility needs of individuals, the idea of automated vehicles is touted to be a game changer for the logistics industry. Big names like Uber, Google and Tesla have already tested their ‘robo-trucks’ to carry large loads of cargo.
However, in India, the government is more skeptical of the technology with Union Minister for Roads and Highways Nitin Gadkari saying in September 2019 that they did not want to encourage driverless cars in the country as it could lead to the loss of jobs in India.