India is not ready for AI-driven cars. Govt regulations, chaos on roads, risk of drivers’ jobs


The very concept of self-driving cars seems ridiculous in India. Just look at the chaos on our roads. No matter how advanced roads are built in this country, citizens show willful neglect when using them. Even on the recently constructed Dwarka Expressway, which I drove on, there were multiple instances of people driving in the wrong manner. However, Seth said that even in the US, Phoenix is the only city where Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google, operates fully autonomous ‘Robotaxis’, although limited operations also occur in California. Just the amount of computing required, even in a place like Phoenix, which has wide boulevards and a fairly law-abiding population, is immense.

However, innovators like Tarun Mehta, the founder of Ather Energy, see the future potential of such systems, if not ‘fully autonomous’ vehicles, then increased usage of what is described as ‘vehicle to vehicle’ communication. In this system, vehicles can share not only their speed but also navigation-related information with each other. If you’ve driven on any expressway in India, there is always that one person who wants to cut across four lanes of traffic at the last moment, creating a traffic menace. And if you’re distracted, as we often are these days thanks to smartphones, such systems can genuinely help prevent accidents.

Also read: EVs were propped up as future of cars. So why are UK and US falling out of love with them?

AI-controlled vehicles

While these systems offer many benefits, a potent question arises about privacy. If cars and motorcycles communicate with each other in the future, will they also communicate with authorities such as the traffic police?

What about bio-sensors, like those seen in smartwatches? While drunk driving is never an option, I would feel uncomfortable if my vehicle informed me that my blood-alcohol is slightly above the legal limit, preventing it from starting.

Where does this end? What if you’ve had a bad day at work and your car tells you that your blood pressure is too high for you to drive?

Of course, this feature could save your life if your car’s sensors detect severe arrhythmia, a common precursor to cardiac arrest, and drive you to a hospital instead of your destination.

All of this isn’t fantastic or futuristic talk. While we do not live in a Jetsons world with flying cars and robotic maids, Seth did experience ‘Robotaxis’. Despite our Minister for Road, Transportation and Highways, Nitin Gadkari expressing reservations against autonomous driving cars, it isn’t safety and privacy that concerns him, but rather jobs—what will happen to the millions of Ola, Uber and commercial vehicle drivers? It’s a valid concern. Additionally, the new AI regulations implemented by Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar might also play a role.

Artificial Technology and Machine Learning will certainly be essential in the automotive industry, as MG Group’s Neha Jain points out. With electric vehicles coming in, AI can predict usage patterns, optimise charging, and help automotive and power companies in improving the electricity grid. After all, you would want to charge your electric car from your rooftop solar panel. Mehta adds that AI, and even the slightly controversial Generative AI can help enhance design and streamline manufacturing, saving a few minutes in the production process.

While I am all for driver freedom and independence today, I am also aware that 1,50,000 people die on Indian roads every year. If AI can help significantly reduce fatalities, is it a bad idea? The concept of a Robotaxi intrigues me, especially considering how poorly most cab drivers drive.

@kushanmitra is an automotive journalist based in New Delhi. Views are personal.

(Edited by Ratan Priya)

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