In Bhopal, India, a place nestled in between the royally pink city of Jaipur and the dry (i.e., alcohol forbidden) state of Gujarat, is a team of developers determined to make a fully driverless car suitable to the complexities of Indian traffic. An algorithm elaborate enough has yet to be made by any other company, but is the fundamental key to handling the intuitive habits of Indian drivers, the often intense and gridlocked traffic, and the country's vast expanse of jarring roads.
The Bhopal team, led by Sanjeev Sharma, an IIT-Roorkee alumnus, is working under his company Swaayatt Robots, which was founded in 2015. "Swaayatt" is a Sanskrit word meaning "autonomous." The team's motto is "Drive in India, make in India."
Sharma's company started to develop its first fully autonomous prototype in 2016 using a Mahindra Bolero, and was recently completed in February.
According to Sharma, companies with autonomous vehicle technology developed outside of India will have trouble implementing that technology within the country because they don't understand its unique road conditions and the chaotic traffic.
Over the last two years, Sharma and his team have been testing out their algorithm on simulated drives. They've also done trial runs with their initial Bolero prototype in the parking lot of their office, and they plan to begin testing the vehicle on the highway soon. Sharma always rides up in front in case of an emergency.
They've had some trouble sourcing parts, and made their own, Sharma told FactorDaily:
We manually converted the vehicle to drive-by-wire, so the mechanical hardware installed by us is not as good as the ones found in factory-produced vehicles. We have contacted vehicle manufacturers like Mahindra to get our hands on a drive-by-wire test vehicle.
After converting the car into a drive-by-wire vehicle, the team fitted it with a custom-made wheel encoder to measure the car's speed and acceleration. They also installed "a displacement unit for wheel odometry; a gear-shifting mechanism; a clutch-pushing mechanism; an accelerator controller; a steering controller; and mounts around the vehicle for cameras and sensors," he said in the FactorDaily interview.
Sharma plans to have a working proof-of-concept by April and a fully autonomous prototype by October.
Sharma and his team are not the first to attempt to conquer India's roads with a driverless car. Tesla is speeding ahead with their semi-autonomous electric car to be released in India in the summer. Since April, the company has been taking bookings from customers for its $35,000 Model 3 sedan.
Other IIT teams are also gearing up to build India's first driverless car. Mahindra has even developed a prototype of a driverless tractor at their research center in Chennai, and are continuing their research into autonomous vehicles.
If Sharma and his Bhopal team are the first to create a fully autonomous, working, and safe vehicle for India, then it will be a celebration for sure. Either way, Indian startups are marching at full force into the autonomous car race.