India accelerates into the future of connected cars and autonomous vehicles
India is relatively new to the connected cars segment, but the future holds promise because India needs connectivity on-the-go. This connectivity is required for the basics, like tracking vehicles, and the essentials, like providing travelers with customised services.
The connectivity is made possible through an inclusive approach, integrating a database with backend systems. Auto companies, telecom providers and cloud service providers all have a significant role to play in the effectiveness of any given service. There’s ample scope for growth, as it opens out channels of revenue generation for all involved in the connectivity chain, extending out to include map providers, web application developers, enterprise application specialists and others who offer value-added services. To a large extent, mobile technology will fuel the growth of this sector.
“India is home to one billion mobile phones, as per TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) data. Mobile internet is catching up with the broadband. This indicates that there’s a need to be connected at all times,” said Sreegururaj Jayachander, Mahindra & Mahindra, speaking at the eighth annual Nasscom Design and Engineering Summit recently.
Building blocks for connected cars
Creating connected cars is both an art and science. It’s a science because devices within connected cars are connected with the vehicle and the outside world, be it the home or office. This happens when the vehicle connects to a server or cloud through a unit. Data about the vehicle can also be transferred via a SIM card. Other requirements include navigation systems, mobiles and tablets used for tracking vehicles and providing infotainment. “Around 92 per cent of the companies in the commercial vehicle segment consider vehicle tracking as top priority. Others look out for tech-enabled, third-party services like infotainment,” Jayachander explained.
The market in the machine-to-machine space is changing, with telecom providers and cloud service providers playing an important role. The challenge lies in bundling all these offerings into the ecosystem for seamless functioning of bandwidth allocation, storage and content management. This is the art. At the end of it, it’s all about making connected vehicles productive.
Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd (M&M Ltd), part of the $17.8-billion Mahindra Group, launched a technology platform called DiGiSENSE in August 2016. DiGiSENSE, designed with different manifestations for diverse users, aims to grab a share of the connected car market with its offerings.
It is an integrated technology platform for vehicle connectivity across a wide range of mobility products, tractors and businesses. This technology platform connects Mahindra vehicles, tractors, trucks and construction equipment to the cloud. That’s because the ecosystem - comprising technology partners like the cloud service provider, map provider, telecom network provider, hardware manufacturer and other parties - has already been put in place. This gives the technology platform several onboard key features, including route planning and delivery tracking. It also gives updates on vehicle utilisation, helps optimise trips and offers machine-hour operations and alerts. Geo fencing is another feature, preventing vehicles straying off course without approval.
Autonomous vehicles, anyone?
Autonomous vehicles also hold much promise for India. For Dr Roshy John, a robotics professional, this revelation happened one night in 2010 when he decided to check into a hotel upon landing in Bangalore. He hopped into a taxi. It turned out that the overworked taxi driver was so exhausted and sleepy it became difficult for him to navigate the traffic.
Common sense prevailed and John swapped slots with the driver, navigating the route himself to his destination. The incident lingered in his mind, urging him to visualise an autonomous vehicle. The sketchy idea took shape when he zeroed in on the Tata Nano which has a rear engine, making it relatively easy to include actuators in the front.
“I did a virtual simulation on the Tata Nano, along with the algorithms to make it suitable for the Indian road conditions. Laser scanners have been used in place of expensive sensors,” said John, global practice head, robotics and cognitive systems, Tata Consultancy Services. The robotics professional included pedal assistance, 3D simulation and driver psychology.
It’s been a labour of love and a learning process for John. By and large it’s a self-funded project. His autonomous model has road-prediction capabilities and can distinguish between static and dynamic vehicles. The vehicle has already been tested on India's public roads.
“In future, we plan to simulate and test autonomous heavy vehicles and those vehicles meant for the farm sector,” explained John. Of course, it will take quite a while for autonomous driving to become a commonplace reality on our highways, but the journey has already begun.