#Asia While Google Car caused an accident in US, this techie was busy making India’s cheapest car driverless


Roshy John has successfully made a driverless car which will not cost more than US$10,000 once commercialised

Rodhy John (C) with his team mates

Rodhy John (C) with his team mates


Google Car stole the show last week, this time for ‘hitting’ the hurdle. The Internet giant’s ambitious driverless car project hit a bus, although mildly, while on a test run, after successfully testing it out on the busy streets of California for a few months.

The car — which boasts of sensors designed to detect objects as far as two football fields away in all directions, including pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles, or even fluttering plastic shopping bags and rogue birds — did fail to identify the large object in front of it, this time.

And as expected, there was an international media hoo-ha over it (as if some 100 people were dead in the accident). While Google was trying to detect the chinks in the armour, an unknown Indian techie was busy converting the world’s cheapest car driverless. Quite successfully.

Dr. Roshy John, Practice Head at Indian software giant Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), started the project a hobby back in 2010, after having a near-death experience in a hired taxi because the driver was exhausted and dozed off.  This was when the idea of commercial driverless cars was just emerging and Google Car was in the conceptualisation stage.

“My research and career mainly focusses on robotics. Back then, I had developed robots for different industries and had a handful of experience in developing mobile robots. We have this practice of using 3D simulations to simulate a robot concept before prototyping it. I planned to follow the same path because doing a driverless research on an actual vehicle would be so expensive, much more than I can ever afford,” he writes in a LinkedIn post.

John says driverless car is more of a ‘social commitment’ for him. Indian roads are crazy that driving is a laborious task. Driverless cars can reduce the number of accidents in the country, he tells e27.

When he got into the project, the key challenge for him was to select a suitable vehicle. After doing some research, he zeroed in on Tata Nano — the cheapest in the world that costs less than US$3,000.

“I found TATA Nano to be the best choice because of multiple reasons — although it is a small car from outside, it is so spacious inside and there is enough room for computers, actuators and sensors inside the car,” he adds.

TATA Nano is the only rear engine vehicle in the market and there is a storage space in the front.
John’s initial decision was to place the pedal robots inside the engine bay. He had one more reason to choose TATA Nano. The On-Board Diagnostics(OBD) data is the only source for the driverless algorithm computers to know the state of the engine. In TATA Nano it is easily readable, he explains.

Also Read: Why driverless cars aren’t on the road yet

“I bought a TATA Nano and totally reverse engineered it to understand how to hack into the vehicle’s electronics to connect sensors, actuators and engine scanners. The major difference with simulation is that, we considered the vehicle to be having automatic transmission, but back then TATA Nano had only manual transmission. The initial task we took up initially was to convert the manual transmission to automatic, which is now known as Automated Manual Transmission,” he adds.

The whole project cost him a total of US$300,000 which included the vehicle, sensors and other parts. The project was completely funded by himself, with the money he saved and pooled in from his patents.  He then set up a team of engineers. They worked together into late nights and weekends to make it a reality.

“While the project was very expensive, the final product will not cost you more than INR 7 lakh (under US$10,000) once commercialised, which is affordable from a middle-class point of view,” he adds.

The concept of driverless cars is not yet legalised in India. Thus, all the road tests were done on secluded residential projects. The team did the initial pilot testing on these roads where the car did limited self-driving. They continued this research over these years and made a driving robot modular which can be fitted on to any vehicle. John has also filed the patents protecting the concept.

“These days, almost all the automotive manufacturers are continuing with their own research on autonomous vehicles. This could lead to the development of new standards and new insurance models. But surprisingly, I find teaching the old dog new tricks (an autonomous driving robot) more fun. Over and above, using simulation reduces the development investments to a bare minimum,” according to John.

John has been getting a lot of calls for possible collaboration with different manufacturers across the world, but he has not made up his mind yet as to whether to go for it. He is, however, testing the driverless technology on luxury vehicles, heavy vehicles and even auto-rickshaws.

“Once my plans bear fruits, it will bring a drastic change to the automotive industry,” he concludes.

The post While Google Car caused an accident in US, this techie was busy making India’s cheapest car driverless appeared first on e27.

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