Rahil Ansari, Head, Audi India  

AUDI AG globally unveiled the new Audi A8 in Barcelona in 2017, the first production automobile in the world to be developed for highly automated driving.

All along, I knew that the technology was in the offing, but to actually see it in a production car, which is going to hit roads soon was amazing.

I am equally excited at the prospect of driverless cars on the streets in India – the advantages of driverless cars in a country like India is huge.

According to statistics, nearly 1.46 lakh people were killed in accidents in India last year as compared to 1.50 lakh in 2016. India has the highest number of roaddeaths across the globe. One in every 10 deaths is reported from India.

Experts say nearly 78 per cent of these accidents happened because of the driver error.

This is one area where automated driving can really make a difference since chances of human error reduce with automation. Globally, researchers estimate that driverless cars could, by mid-century, reduce traffic fatalities by up to 90 per cent.

Consider North India, where the fog in winter reduces visibility on roads. This is where something like the Audi AI traffic jam pilot can help, as it takes charge of driving in slow-moving traffic at up to 60 kmph on highways, where a physical barrier separates the two carriageways.

From a technical perspective, the traffic jam pilot is revolutionary. During piloted driving, a central driver assistance controller (zFAS) permanently computes an image of the surroundings by merging sensor data.

All-round sensors

This automated driving technology will also help those who need cars but have difficulties driving; as in the case of disabled and seniors who can now enjoy mobility. The traffic jam pilot manages starting, accelerating, steering and braking. This increases efficiency and reduces fuel usage and, consequently, carbon footprints. According to a McKinsey report, autonomous cars can reduce vehicular CO2 emissions by 300 million tonnes annually.

Since the traffic jam pilot manages it all, drivers no longer need to monitor the car permanently. They can take their hands off the steering wheel and focus on any other activity like watching TV. As soon as the system reaches its limits, it calls on them to take back control of the vehicle. Today’s drivers spend an average of about 50 minutes per day at the wheel. Audi is investigating how this time could be used better in a self-driving automobile as part of the 25th Hour project. This is based on the assumption that an intelligent human-machine interface will learn the user’s individual preferences and adapt flexibly. In this way, customers gain full control of their time.

In a first step, the project team looked at people in Hamburg, San Francisco and Tokyo, focusing on two aspects — how is infotainment used in the car today? And what would people like to do with their free time in the car of the future? The results were then discussed with a variety of experts, including psychologists, anthropologists, and urban and mobility planners.

In a second step, the team defined three time modes that are conceivable in a self-driving car: Quality time, productive time, and time for regeneration. In the first case, people spend time with their children or telephoning family and friends. In productive time, they usually work while downtime sees them relax by reading, surfing the web or watching a film.

Driverless cars, likewise, allow people to use their time in the manner they wish to. In a country like India where there are long distances to be travelled everyday, this will be a boon as people can reach their offices/homes in a happier state of mind.

Job loss fears

History has shown us that technology, which at first seems to threaten jobs has actually led to creation of many more. Take the example of —  mobile phones, when there were concerns that people who had phone booths would lose out on their earnings. There is no denying the fact that mobile phones have created millions of additional jobs in India. There are mobile galleries, recharge-shops, handset retail, technology jobs, among others.

Even when mobility apps were launched, there were fears that businesses of taxis and autorickshaws would suffer, but today they coexist with each other and the customer has benefited. Similarly, we need to wait and watch for the potential of driverless cars while welcoming opportunities that emerge.