Will car autopilot mode work here?

Will car autopilot mode work here?

The dismal state of our roads and the density of traffic might hinder Tesla's most unique feature

Even if you forego the autopilot feature, charging points are few and far adding to the car's adaptation problems.

Is Bengaluru ready for autopilot cars? No, the city has a long way to go, say experts.

Tesla, the American clean energy major, has just announced it is setting up an electric car factory in Bengaluru.

Data scientist Aamir Syed says the autopilot feature will not have it easy, given the mess that Bengaluru traffic is.

“The city has an extreme traffic problem not only because of the sheer number of vehicles but also because of poor road structure and planning,” he says.

Kala Seetharam, professor, Centre for Research in Urban Affairs, Institute for Social and Economic Change, says the city’s road density, is the ratio of the length of the country’s total road network to the country’s land area, is around 10 per cent, which is lower than the recommended 12.5 per cent.

“The move towards electric cars is great environmentally, but I don’t think the city is ready. At least not for the self-driving option,” she says.

Lanes important

Automation works on the principle of lane traffic, says traffic expert M N Sreehari. “Leave alone following lanes, we don’t even have marked lanes on most roads,” he says.

The absence of traffic signs, and obscuring of the existing ones from view, could also hamper automated cars.

Aamir lists out many technical problems. “With poor road maintenance, auto detection of obstructions is not easy, and proximity sensing is hindered by the congestion. Internet glitches could become annoying as Tesla recommends updates be downloaded quickly,” he explains.

As things stand, Tesla recommends the driver assistance feature over fully automated driving. “Autopilot is mostly recommended on better roads and highways but absence of charging stations on longer routes could further limit the potential,” he says.

 Bengaluru has just 112 EV (electric vehicle) charging stations and this would be the first problem the cars face.

Kala proposes that the goverment provide the infrasture for charging stations in private homes. It is currently being offered to indivuduals by private entities. “If Bescom provides charging infrastructure in private homes, it would greatly increase adaptation and reduce the need for more public charging stations,” she says.

Heterogeneous traffic conditions and just the task of data labelling the variety of items found on our roads would be a monumental feat, she says.

Kala adds that even in places with better urban planning, such as the US, Tesla’s autopilot feature has caused accidents. The easiest solution is not to use the self-driving feature, says Aamir. “A Tesla might actually cost higher in India. Building a self-driving car is tough, especially in a new environment,” he says.

While self-driving is a much touted Tesla feature, it isn’t the only one. “The car is also valued for its advanced driver assist system. And who knows, maybe this could be the beginning for road development in Bengaluru,” he says.

Kala hopes it will pave the way for the public transport corporations to switch to electric models. 

How does autopilot work?

Autopilot is a system of radars, cameras and sensors that work together to sense the environment around the car. 

“It’s a combination of three things - the ‘eyes’ (cameras), the ‘driving ability’ (path planning and driving policies), and ‘attentiveness’ (predicting and reacting to behaviour of other objects and vehicles on the road),” explains data scientist Aamir Syed.  Camera feeds and sensors train a machine to “learn” from these inputs — how to predict the behaviour of vehicles, how to drive and shift lanes, and following stop signs and more. 

“Computer models like these are built to learn from the patterns in the data given to them. Advanced models that work on complex patterns are called neural networks. Autopilot is a complex model, a special type of deep neural network. Powerful onboard systems process the data in milliseconds,” he says. 

When is it coming?

Tesla is in the process of setting up their commercial office at the Richmond circle junction opposite the Bangalore Club. Tesla India Motors and Energy Private Ltd was incorprated on January 8. The office will function as a research and development unit. No plans for a manufacturing unit have been revealed.