Govt Sets Out to Clear Road for Driver­less Cars

Planned amend­ments to mo­tor ve­hi­cles law to per­mit test­ing of self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles

The Economic Times - - Front Page -

Ra­jat Arora & Sharmistha Mukher­jee

New Delhi: In­dia could soon see driver­less cars on its roads as pro­posed amend­ments to the mo­tor ve­hi­cles law will em­power the gov­ern­ment to per­mit the test­ing of such ve­hi­cles, an area in which com­pa­nies such as Google, Tesla and Uber are heav­ily en­gaged. “The gov­ern­ment will al­low test­ing of these ve­hi­cles on a case-by-case ba­sis once the law is in place,” a top roads min­istry of­fi­cial told ET. The move will al­low In­dian car­mak­ers and tech­nol­ogy firms to join the global race to de­velop self-driv­ing cars.

Tata Elxsi, the Tata Group’s de­sign and tech­nol­ogy firm, has been plan­ning to test driver­less cars. The com­pany de­clined to com­ment for this re­port.

The new pro­vi­sion is part of the Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles (Amend­ment) Bill, 2016, which had grabbed head­lines for its fo­cus on safety and hefty penal­ties for traf­fic vi­o­la­tions.

“In order to pro­mote in­no­va­tion and re­search and de­vel­op­ment in the fields of ve­hic­u­lar en­gi­neer­ing, me­chan­i­cally pro­pelled ve­hi­cles and trans­porta­tion in gen­eral, the cen­tral gov­ern­ment may ex­empt cer­tain types of me­chan­i­cally pro­pelled ve­hi­cles from the ap­pli­ca­tion of the pro­vi­sions of this Act,” reads a clause in the amend­ment.

The Bill, in­tro­duced in Par­lia­ment in Au­gust last year, has since been re­ferred to a par­lia­men­tary stand­ing com­mit­tee.

“Once cleared, any in­no­va­tion in trans­port sec­tor such as semi­au­tonomous and fully au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles, both pas­sen­ger and com­mer­cial, could be tested in In­dia,” said the of­fi­cial cited above.

Such tests will re­quire the per­mis­sion of the trans­port depart­ment of the union roads min­istry, the per­son said.

While con­di­tions are cur­rently not con­ducive for driver­less cars in the coun­try, the changes will help pre­pare the ground, said Ab­dul Ma­jeed, part­ner at PwC.

Ex­perts say self-driv­ing tech­nol­ogy could find ap­pli­ca­tions in farm sec­tor or on fixed routes in the pub­lic trans­porta­tion space

“May be in fu­ture, semi-au­ton­o­mous or au­ton­o­mous tech­nol­ogy can find ap­pli­ca­tions in lim­ited scale in the farm sec­tor or on fixed routes in the pub­lic trans­porta­tion space. There will not be reg­u­la­tory hur­dles in those in­stances,” said Ab­dul Ma­jeed of PwC.

Glob­ally, car­mak­ers and tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Tesla Mo­tors, China’s Baidu, Google, Uber, Mercedes, Ford and Gen­eral Mo­tors are work­ing on driver­less cars, which are al­ready be­ing tested on city roads across the world. In­ci­den­tally, Google has ac­cused Uber of stealing tech­nol­ogy used in the ve­hi­cles. Tesla Mo­tors CEO Elon Musk has pledged he will pro­duce a ve­hi­cle that will drive it­self from Los An­ge­les to New York by the end of 2017. Swedish au­tomaker Volvo has formed a part­ner­ship with Uber to test driver­less XC90s for ride-shar­ing pur­poses. Uber tested its first fleet of driver­less Volvo XC90s fit­ted with Uber soft­ware in Pitts­burg last Septem­ber.

The taxi ag­gre­ga­tor sub­se­quently had plans to run a pi­lot in Cal­i­for­nia but the depart­ment of mo­tor ve­hi­cles there re­voked the regis­tra­tion of Uber’s 16 au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles be­cause the com­pany al­legedly re­fused to ap­ply for ap­pro­pri­ate per­mits.

Apart from its tieup with Uber, Volvo is sep­a­rately gear­ing up to launch its Drive Me pro­gramme, which will in­volve the test­ing of 100 driver­less cars in Gothen­burg by the end of 2017. The com­pany has plans to make au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles com­mer­cially avail­able by 2020-21.

In­ci­den­tally, Google has ac­cused Uber of stealing tech­nol­ogy used in the ve­hi­cles

ANIR­BAN BORA

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