Driverless Tech Can Change the Future of India’s Logistics – But Are We Ready for it?

Shown Above: A convoy of autonomous trucks - Photo Credit: Volvo)

Shown Above: A convoy of autonomous trucks – Photo Credit: Volvo)

This guest column is by Vishwanadh Chowduri, Co-Founder, Cognigo

Can driverless technology change the future of logistics transportation in India?

Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca said, “It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.” In India’s case some well-paved ones would do the trick.

In 2015, India spent around 14.4% of its GDP on logistics, while the industry itself remained riddled with problems of mismanagement and inadequate infrastructure.

We are slowly working our way through an array of problems, but emerging technologies have completely changed the game. Driverless technology, though touted to be truly functional by 2020, is capable of changing not only the way we travel, but also the way we transfer our freight.

Autonomous driving technologies are currently backed by the support of giants like Apple, Google, Daimler-Benz, among others. And their capabilities are not limited to just self-driving cars or cabs — the reality of driverless trucks is much closer than you might think.

Yes, autonomous driving has extended its reach to the logistics industry as well.

Mercedes-Benz unveiled its self-driving Future Truck 2025 more than two years ago. It claimed that these trucks would consume lesser fuel and could provide a safer and more efficient driving experience. The trucks use radar and stereo camera technology, and can monitor roads up to 60 metres ahead.

They are driven by an automated system; and though a ‘driver’ does sit behind the wheel, he doesn’t actually do any driving. The human counterpart’s job is to simply plan the route on an attached tablet and keep a check on the condition of the freight being carried.

The German vehicle manufacturer has now gone on and unveiled a self-driving Future Bus, that made a 20 kilometre test run in Amsterdam, in July this year.

Automobile experts claim ongoing developments in driverless technology can incredibly reduce the room for human error with ultra-responsive technologies. Merc’s Future Trucks are already capable performing quick lane changes if they sense a broken down vehicle ahead or even an approaching ambulance in the rear.

In India, on the other hand, overturned or crashed trucks are a common sight on roads. According to a report, 382 people died of road accidents in the country in 2014, with overloaded and badly loaded trucks being responsible for a 100 of those deaths.

Drivers have a hard-time controlling overloaded vehicles. Further, speeding, drunk driving and drivers sleeping off at the wheel are some other common factors that lead to tragic accidents.

Driverless technology can help alleviate each of these problems, making Indian roads a lot more safer.

The advent of new technologies can also take our economy to new highs.

Innovative, technologically advanced trucks can carry freight over long distances in shorter periods of time. And they can also be trusted to keep the freight safe, regardless of the weather or surrounding conditions.

In time, we can drastically reduce our transportation costs. Labour costs will also reduce with autonomous vehicles. And we can further cut down on the time lag and losses that result from aforementioned accidents.

All in all, as cost reduces and productivity increases sharply, driverless technology can create the optimum conditions for the logistical transportation industry to thrive.

A thriving industry creates more, better-paying jobs, that can make up for those that are cut or automated thanks to the technology.

The UK is hoping to create 320,000 jobs on the back of driverless technology, meanwhile the transportation network in the US is hoping to double their current output at 25 percent of the cost.

In India, Mahindra Group has begun Research and Development to develop autonomous commercial vehicles. The focus at present is mainly on the agricultural sector, however, which can employ driverless tractors.

If you’re wondering why, the answer lies in the many problems plaguing road infrastructure in the country. Before we can even think about bringing autonomous vehicles from farmlands to India’s highways and roads, a lot of improvements are in order.

Array of potholes, bad planning, severe congestion and lack of proper road safety laws make Indian roads highly unsuitable for driverless technology. Factors like congestion and damaged roads, that are also responsible for road accidents, directly affect the chances of driverless technology growing in India.

There’s also the problem of lane markings, which are followed by driverless vehicles to avoid potential accidents. In March this year, Reuters reported that a semi-autonomous prototype in the US refused to move because of missing lane markings. One can imagine a similar scenario playing out in India.

The industry needs to catch-up and clean-up soon, if it wants to get on the driverless technology bus… and ride to sweet results.

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