Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why Car manufacturers should support selfdrive agencies

Reasons why Automobile companies should support self drive agencies:

1.       Let potential customers test the cars at their convenience: A few kms short test drive around the showroom is not really adequate to understand the car fully and make a well informed purchase decision. If a car maker gives a units to self drive agency, potential customers can comfortably book these cars for a few days, explore them to their heart’s content and if the car is good, buy it from the showroom with lots of confidence in the brand.

2.       Lots of free publicity- self-drive customers often take lots of pics during their trip with the car and promote them online, talk to their office colleagues about the trip they had and the car used etc. This gets free eyeballs and publicity to the car brand. When a customer visits showroom, it is usually the prospect and his/her spouse. When on self drive, lots of friends/relatives will also be exposed to the car as the renter visits them or invites them to join the trip. 

3.       Certifies durability- Taxi companies or self drive companies usually do not induct cars that are high on maintenance, give poor fuel economy or in general can’t ensure lower overall cost of ownership. If a taxi company or self drive agency has decided to trust a model and induct it into its fleet, it sort of certifies that car is economical to operate overall. To a potential buyer of the model, it is a confidence boosting measure.

4.       More feedbacks per car: When a car is sold to an individual customer, only one customer gives feedback per car. When same car is rented out from a self drive agency, dozens of customers will be trying out the car each month and hence there’s a possibility that many of them will give their feedbacks/opinions (may not be directly to the car company, but on their social media channels), thus by monitoring the usage or by tieing up with self drive agency, car manufacturer can get more feedbacks per car.

5.       Abilities to get usage statistics and insights: Asking a private customer how exactly he/she is using the car may not get proper response, as it may violate the individual’s privacy or end customer may not be willing to disclose all details. However, self-drive agencies track their cars with GPS, maintain statistics on kms used, fuel and other vital information. Car manufacturers can tie up with self-drive agencies to gather car usage statistics, which can be used for future improvements of the car model. Some of the data that can be collected and used are:
a.       How many kms people are driving the car per day
b.      Avg fuel economy
c.       What are the destinations the car is often driven to?
d.      Is this car being used more for city usage or outstation trips?
e.      Compared to another similar car from competitor, how is the demand for this car? Is this car being booked weeks in advance or only when the other model is not available?

6.       Try push the cars that have flopped in the market: When a particular model is not selling well in the market, car manufacturers can try giving them at discounted rate to self-drive agencies.  Let us take example of Tata Aria- since its showroom sales is not good, if Tata can give few Aria’s to an agency like Zoom or Carzonrent and probably encourage them to upgrade their customers (say those who’ve booked an Innova) to Aria, customers seldom complain and this will get some good road presence for Aria brand. Similarly if Nanos are not selling in good numbers, if positioned well, self drive agencies can rent it out at an hourly rate so cheap, it might make more sense to rent a nano for few hours than hiring an auto. This is a win win situation for all the 3 parties- Tata can push more Nanos to the road, rental agencies earn income which could have otherwise gone to auto drivers, customers get the comfort of an AC car, for the price of renting an auto…

7.       Let Non owners participate in adventure events: There’re lots of automobile events- such as Mahindra Great Escape, Tata Motors Full Throttle, Himalayan Odyssey etc, to participate in which one should own a car of specific brand. There’re many enthusiasts who wish to participate in these events, but they don’t own/can’t afford to buy an SUV of a specific brand. If some cars can be made available through self-drive agencies for use in such events (risks and other terms can be worked out), more and more fans will get an opportunity to participate in these events. (but car companies need to check if this upset regular car owners)

8.       Keep fan base happy: Some of us will never be able to afford a 30-40 lakh car and even if we had the money we won't spend it on cars. Having luxury cars on self drive will enable more and more people experience the car and stay loyal to the brand.


Above are hypothetical cases. Car manufacturers and self drive company executives and discuss to figure out exact benefits etc. While a few car companies don’t want their car to get a taxi appeal, as they fear it might turn private customers away. But self-drive companies are few and number of self-drive cars are very less, hence having few cars in self-drive fleet won’t get a car Taxi badge. So I don’t think car companies should worry about this aspect.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My video channel and recent gopro videos

Since I last wrote this post about video editing experience, I’ve made a few more videos. I’ve now learnt somewhat effective usage of still photos in a video- using movie maker, I am able to generate small video clips out of still photos, by inducing simple animations like panning, zoom etc into them. (Go Pro studio didn’t seem to have effective functions for this, or at least I couldn’t figure out).

Creating a video project results in generating another 5-10 GB of data on the hard disc- once video is produced, I have a tough choice- either to retain the project and delete source video files, or delete the project and retain the source video files (this is purely to reclaim disc space, not required if you have TBs of free space). I’ve currently opted to delete the project and retain the source files- this means if I have to make some changes to the video, I will have recreate everything- which is fine, because it gives me lots of flexibility.

Generating the output file from GoPro studio and then uploading them to youtube are the two activities that take maximum time- one minute video takes 1 hour on an average for these 2 activities combined. Because of this, even when I find small errors/possible improvements, I don’t find like reworking on the project, given the time and effort it takes. If there’re lots of viewers or some other motive, this spending more effort makes sense.

Below are some of my recent videos- you might have already seen them in some of the recent posts or in my social media channels. I invite you to subscribe to my youtube channel, where you can view my newly added videos as soon as they are live.

1. Dusit Thani Hua Hin resort preview (Blog post here)

Watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIeISUVmClY

2. Crab Release activity in Thailand's Sirinath Rajini Centre for Mangrove studies [Blogpost here]
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jcha3vUaoU

3. Suryagarh video preview [Review of Suryagarh here]
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smhYJBTGITY

Visit to the wine yard
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EImbdt8c-Ac

Bangkok Dinner Cruise. [Blogpost here]
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJo5GKHtEEg

Doodhsagar falls visit by train [Blogpost here]
  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UolGY0mKqXI

Subscribe to my channel on youtube here
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9CKdQ3tlcijAooEjpoq-VQ

Appreciate any comments/suggestions on these videos

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Historic Hua Hin Railway Station, Thailand

Hua Hin Railway station is probably one of the most beautiful railway stations in Thailand. It is also the oldest in Thailand. Its beautiful red and white design, wooden structure makes it very eye catching. We visited Hua Hin station during night time and some photos below for your reference.




Station is open 24 hours, but trains operate between 6.30AM and 11.20PM.

Hua Hin station also has a King's waiting room- which is believed to be the key attraction here- we couldn't see that in the night.

Related: Dusit Thani resort, Hua Hin * 3D Art Gallery Hua Hin

Monday, August 25, 2014

Uber Chennai Taxi Ride Experience

I finally managed to try Uber’s services successfully. I had written my initial thoughts about Uber India here. After that I tried a few times to hail Uber cab, failed twice and got lucky the third time…

Below is what happened on the three occasions

Attempt 1: While returning from Jaisalmer, Aug 4th: 9.20 PM, I book the cab at airport, with pickup location in the app pointed next to Tirusulam railway station. An Innova was assigned to my booking. I didn’t bother calling the driver. ETA kept varying between 8 mins to 33 mins, I waited for 20 mins, cab doesn’t show up and suddenly I get an Uber Invoice for Rs 0, followed by an email from Uber community manager thanking me for using Uber’s services. I had no clue what happened, I gave low rating, shot a short mail and reached home after spending just Rs 26 on public transport (Train+ Bus+share auto).
I was later told that this was a mistake from driver, who clicked “End trip” button instead of sending “Arriving Now” msg, prompting the system to terminate the booking. Uber community manager explained me that they’re taking steps to correct the issue and train the drivers better.


Attempt 2: Two weeks later, while returning from Goa, I tried again. This time also an Innova was assigned, I lose half my interest. Despite having marked my location next to Tirusalam subway, I could see that cab is going inside the airport, traveling around randomly. I got the ‘Arriving Now’ message but cab is nowhere close. I called the driver, he said he couldn’t reach me, so was searching for me randomly inside Airport pickup area. I told him that I am not inside airport area, but on the main road.  He said he will come.

I realized now that the phone number I’d used while signing up for Uber and phone number I have now are different. Because of this driver couldn’t call me. I tried updating my mobile number in the app, but this field was non editable. Probably it is a security measure, while I was under the impression that App is smart enough to figure out the correct contact number. I could update the mobile number later in the website.

I waited for few more minutes, I again got a msg that my booking is complete. This annoyed me, because Uber doesn’t seem to have an option like “Terminated by driver” or “cancelled by Uber” for requests that couldn’t be fulfilled for whatever reason. Why should customer be charged Min fare of Rs 150 for such cases and forced to make another booking for no apparent reason?
I opted to hail a fast track taxi and reach home by spending about Rs 400 (This worked out about Rs 200 cheaper than booking a cab inside airport,  as airport parking fee and other expenses are transferred to the customer.

Attempt 3: Last Friday, booked an Uber ride from Leela Palace till home, a distance of about 12.5 kms. This time I got a Honda City, I promptly called the driver to inform him of my correct number, location etc. Cab arrived within 6-8 minutes, which was super cool. The brand new 2014 Honda city was nice, 12 kms were covered in about 20 mins flat, as it was close to midnight sans much traffic. The bill came to about Rs 340. (My home to Airport, which is 17kms, costs Rs 340- 350 in fast track)

Few observations:
1. Toll had to be paid in cash. This part is not automated
2. Driver drove in a modest speed of 40-50kmph despite empty roads. (Not complaining, just saying)
3. In my 3 attempts I didn’t get lucky to have a high end car like BMW. So it reconfirms my thought that Uber has just a few high end cars for publicity/promotional purpose and most of the fleet are regular cars- Innova, city, corolla etc. This is the reason car type is not shown before booking (say while showing ETA) and probability of getting a BMW/Merc will be very low. (At 18 Rs per km, a BMW owner will take long time to recover his investments)
4. A few phone calls might still be required, since Indian address system is not perfect
5. Fast Track's minimum fare (Rs 100) includes a few free kms, while Uber's base fare includes none.
6. While there're a few promo codes that can be used, I find it a pain to remember the code, type it in during booking etc. Will be nice if the app automatically applies best of the discount possible, without user having to remember, key in the code etc.
7. Three days since the ride, I am still waiting for the transaction to reflect in my credit card statement. Waiting to see if I will incur any extra expense since Uber transactions are routed internationally.

Will I try Uber again? If I am in good mood, Yes. But not super excited about Uber, as I realize that probability of getting high end car is very low and few drawbacks like not able to book in advance, know/specify car type etc might out-weight the convenience.

Once they launch UberX in Chennai I will be more keen to use UberX often- there my expectations are set right and I will be paying less. 

Uber has run into a regulatory issue with RBI accepting competition’s complaint that Uber is not following a 2 step authentication process while accepting automated card payments. Need to see how Uber responds to this and adapts itself.

If you're signing up at Uber.com, please use my referal code 'uberenidhi' 

Crab Release and Mangrove plantation at Sirinath Rajini Center for Mangrove Forest Studies, Thailand

On the we left Hua Hin to head for Bangkok, we had a CSR activity on the way. We stopped at Sirinath Rajini Centre for Mangrove Forest Studies in Pran Buri District of Thailand.

10 years ago, this place reportedly was an abandoned shrimp area. Today it has been converted into a learning centre for Mangrove Forest Studies.

As we arrived, we were greeted by a bucket full of crabs, their claws tied with ropes. Tourists visiting the centre are briefed about the crabs and given an opportunity to release them into the mangrove forest, as a method of preserving marine creatures.The right method of how to hold, where to cut the ropes etc are demonstrated by the staff.

While many visitors were scared of the crabs and their tentacles, few brave ones picked them up, cut the ropes tied to their arms and legs and released them into the forest. I assume these crabs were grown in the campus to be released once they mature, not captured ones.

Below is a video of crab release activity I've made during our visit there...


Apart from the crab release, a walk in the woods is equally exciting. A raised platform ensures basic safety from crabs and other reptiles below.


Once done with crab release, next activity was to plant some saplings in the open areas of mangrove forest.


I would have preferred to go in with bare foot, but staff recommended that we wear thick stockings provided by them while we enter marshland to plant saplings. "It will be very difficult to clean later" was the explanation.

Sirinath Rajini centre for Mangrove Forest studies did win 2010 award of Excellence as one of the best tourist attractions in the country. It is the only mangrove reforestation study centre in Thailand.

Sirinath Rajini centre for Mangrove Forest studies is located at Tambon Pak, Nam Pran Amphoe, Pran Buri, Prachuap Khiri Khan Province. This place is about 100kms from capital city Bangkok.

The centre seemed very close to the ocean. We didn't have time to explore more.

Similar: Pichavaram mangrove, Tamil Nadu 

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