Autonomous cars: Fu­ture in Pak­istan

Pakistan Observer - - ECONOMY WATCH -

RAJA MURAD KHAN LA­HORE—Gone are the days when self-driven cars sounded like fu­tur­is­tic fan­tasy. Af­ter Google, the first com­pany to in­tro­duce driver­less cars in Cal­i­for­nia, car man­u­fac­tur­ers such as Tesla, BMW, and Mercedes are also look­ing into in­cor­po­rat­ing the self­driv­ing fea­tures in their cars. An autonomous or self-driven car, in sim­ple words, is a ve­hi­cle that uses tech­nol­ogy to op­er­ate with lit­tle or zero hu­man as­sis­tance.

Autonomous cars are di­vided into two sub-cat­e­gories: semi-autonomous cars pro­vide brake and park­ing as­sis­tance. Us­ing the sen­sory mo­tion de­tec­tors, these cars can push emer­gency brakes in case of a pos­si­ble col­li­sion, or set off alarms when the car is in dan­ger­ously close range of an­other ve­hi­cle to alert the driver. Fully autonomous ve­hi­cles are fur­ther di­vided into user-op­er­ated and driver­less cars, and re­quire minimal hu­man as­sis­tance to eval­u­ate the en­tire range of on-road sce­nar­ios.

The ma­jor rea­son why this self­driven cars seem to have gained pop­u­lar­ity among stake­hold­ers and con­sumers alike is their promis­ing road safety fea­tures. These cars use tech­nolo­gies such as Radar, GPS, Li­dar, and Odom­e­try (us­ing data from mo­tion sen­sors to es­ti­mate change in po­si­tion) to gauge their sur­round­ings, iden­tify nav­i­ga­tion paths, and sense move­ment around them and act on their own as per this in­put. Ve­hi­cles with con­trol sys­tems are ca­pa­ble of sens­ing so much so as ob­sta­cles and rel­e­vant sig­nage. These cars run on recharge­able bat­ter­ies, which make them en­vi­ron­ment friendly as well by cut­ting off the fuel re­quire­ment. Mar­ket re­search sug­gests that there will be at least 10 mil­lion cars on roads with self-driv­ing fea­tures when the fore­cast pe­riod ends.

De­spite the pop­u­lar­ity of the con­cept, there is still a lot of im­prove­ment needed to mass pro­duce these cars and make them work per­fectly on cur­rent in­fra­struc­tures, es­pe­cially in coun­tries like Pak­istan. In states like Amer­ica where road in­fra­struc­ture is a con­sid­er­ably more ad­vanced com­pared to third world coun­tries, these cars still need plenty of test and trial runs to per­fect the ride. In coun­tries like ours, not only the in­fra­struc­ture is in­com­pat­i­ble for self-driven ve­hi­cles, but the de­fi­ance of traf­fic rules by gen­eral pub­lic and shabby con­di­tion of roads are also huge im­ped­i­ments. And since these cars will op­er­ate on recharge­able bat­ter­ies, elec­tric­ity short­age is go­ing to be a prob­lem as well.

Keeping afore­men­tioned chal­lenges in mind, the first thing re­quired in or­der to make autonomous cars com­pat­i­ble in Pak­istan, is to over­come elec­tric­ity short­age and in­vest in im­prov­ing the in­fra­struc­ture. We have rather ill-planned road in­fra­struc­ture for the present heavy traf­fic in­flux. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port pub­lished in an English daily, the num­ber of mo­torve­hi­cles in La­hore alone has in­creased up to 20 times since 1980.Pun­jab gov­ern­ment seems to be tak­ing the is­sue se­ri­ously, and is de­vel­op­ing un­der­passes and over­head bridges to counter the prob­lem, but it is still a long way to go.

Next step shall be strict coun­try­wide im­ple­men­ta­tion of traf­fic rules to avoid de­lib­er­ate mis­takes caus­ing deadly ac­ci­dents. It is go­ing be a dif­fi­cult task to un­der­take be­cause even in ur­ban ar­eas a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of traf­fic in­flux com­prises of tra­di­tional ve­hi­cles -in ad­di­tion to mo­tor-ve­hi­clessuch as Qingqi rick­shaws, auto rick­shaws, and don­key and horse carts. These tra­di­tional ve­hi­cles are the least obe­di­ent of traf­fic rules and most dif­fi­cult to con­trol. Proper and ex­ten­sive plan­ning will be re­quired to tackle these is­sues. How­ever, these are man­age­able is­sues that re­quire dili­gence and per­sis­tence from gov­ern­ment au­thor­i­ties. As per mar­ket re­search done by Car­mudi Pak­istan, there may be a few user-op­er­ated autonomous cars seen in Pak­istan in near fu­ture, but fully autonomous cars seem like a fu­tur­is­tic thing for us, un­less the chal­lenges are met well in time.

— The writer is Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor for Car­mudi Pak­istan

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