As you know Google is working on driverless cars. These cars are more disciplined, always alert and in a civilized society with lots of space on the roads, could be more safer than human driven cars. But will it work in India- particularly city like Bangalore? What would happen if Google’s driver-less car is put to use in Bengaluru city as a daily commute vehicle? Read on to find out.
Disclaimer: This is a pure work of fiction.
Image from this website
Monday morning, 7AM, Mr. Bakshi, a project manager with an MNC in Whitefield sits in the back seat of his Google self drive Prius, at his home in Jayanagar and asks the car to take him to work. House gate is opened, car looks to enter the road outside the house.
20 seconds from the portico and into the road outside the gate, car screeches to halt as a cyclist appears from nowhere and zips past. Google car needs certain amount of free space around to move, which is difficult to attain thanks to constant movement of vehicles, people and animals on the road.
10 minutes of patient wait, car gets an opportunity to enter the road. Within minutes, the first signal is encountered. Car stops at a safe distance of 2 meters from the vehicle ahead, but an auto guy squeezes in from nowhere into that spot and a BMTC bus stops behind within 23mm distance of Prius’s rear bumper, sending its sensors and calculation logic haywire.
After waiting patiently for several minutes, a secret program coded by Google’s Bangalore born developer gets activated- it tells car that it is possible to move forward by 13 inches using below tactics:
Step 1: Honk continuously till the auto guy ahead moves to his right by 2.5 inches
Step 2: Steer sharp left, get two left side wheels on the pavement and overtake auto from left
Step 3: Move forward by another 10 inch and figure out whether to wait or if there’s some other strategy to move further
But Google car’s ethical manners coded in by the Bangalore staff’s California counterparts override above proposal and ask the car to wait. Sensing that Google car is not making optimal use of Bangalore’s road surface- several square inches of which left unused by the car, begins to irritate bikers and vehicles behind. They begin honking impatiently. Google car deploys rear spoiler to ensure car gets extra downforce and doesn’t get pushed ahead by the sheer sound energy of the honks.
Few minutes later signal turns green and vehicles ahead begin to move. But as our Google car is about to cross the zebra crossing, light turns Orange and Google car naturally slows down and stops, agitating the battalion of vehicles behind, for whom orange light means “Speed up and try to escape before the light turns Red”. They are naturally annoyed being blocked by an obedient car, while they could have easily crossed the signal if this idiot computer of a car was not there in front of them.
After repeating above scenario for every few minutes at every signal and turn, car finally reached the legendary silk board junction, by about 10 AM, 3 hours since it left from home 6kms from current point. Here vehicles move only few millimeters at a time. Google car’s refusal to move forward unless there’s a minimum free space of several meters implied that car remained virtually stationery for long time. Then other drivers got really disturbed and they all volunteered to physically lift the google car and move it forward an inch, so that their vehicles could move forward by an inch too, followed by the serpentine queue behind.
At this time Mr Bakshi had missed 3 of his morning meetings, but thanks to technology he could take the calls from his car (which if you remember from above, was being lifted by fellow drivers at silk board junction to move forward).
By noon the car cleared silk board junction. At this moment Mr Bakshi got really hungry and tells the car to take him to a good restaurant nearby. Smart car it is, Google car figures out shortest way to a McDonald in HSR layout and diverts from main road. Unaware to the satellites and Google maps, BBMP had dug the road across at the end of one of the small bylanes the car took in order to reach McDonald's faster. The fact that it was dug 2 weeks ago but still not updated In Google’s data centre simply means Google still has its work pending. Before the smart car could realize the blockade and back out, the road was blocked by a giant dump truck commissioned by the BBMP. The truck driver is not used to going back in order to make way for smaller vehicles, so he suggested that car be driven into another small gully cross road for a while so that he can go further. But Google car’s algorithm was neither designed to be driven over steel rods and sand dumps left on the roadside nor it could understand the clever instructions from the truck driver, so it remained there motionless.
Truck driver’s instructions began to turn into abuses as he realized that the little car is not heeding to his advises. He came down to hurl more abuses face to face, only to realize that no one is driving the car. His abuse now turned to Mr Bakshi- banging on the windshield and asking him where the hell his driver has gone parking the car in the middle of the road. Mr Bakshi was caught unawares from his client escalation meeting. He rolled down the window and impulsively said “No worries, we’ll issue a patch release to fix that”. Sensing that his statement made no impact and he was in the middle of a real world escalation situation, Mr Bakshi had to cut short his call and step out. He had to take manual control of the car, move it aside to make way for the truck and drive to Mc D. He looked for a way to tell the car: “Just remember what I did OK!” but he couldn’t find any such option.
Now that it was already 2 PM, Mr Bakshi didn’t see any point going further towards his office. He might as well begin his return journey and hope to reach home before the evening traffic picks up. So he tells his car “Enough of this mess, turn back and take me home before sunset”
Google car now happily begins its return journey, as traffic is much less mid afternoon. But then, Google car doesn’t know that One-Ways and Two-ways are inter-changed in Bangalore at the whim and fancy of Traffic police. The road that was two way in morning is now turned one way and a traffic constable who was hiding behind a tree jumps in front of the Google car, happy having caught his first victim. Smart car it is, Google car applies brake suddenly to stop in time not to run over the constable, but in the process, the extra large coke Mr Bakshi had picked up at McD and was hoping to enjoy on his relaxed return journey home, spills all over him. (Note: Google’s self driven cars can’t detect a roadside policeman signaling it to stop or pullover. But that doesn’t concern Bangalore traffic police, as they always jump right in-front of a speeding vehicle to make it stop. Google car stops in such instances purely as a pedestrian safety measure, not as a legal compliance ability)
After having stopped his victim, traffic constable moves aside to reach driver's window. Google car thinks its way is clear, hence begins moving. This irritates the cop who runs back to block the car's way. This repeats few times, till traffic constable gets his sidekick to stand in-front of the car while he investigates. Traffic constable comes to driver’s window and asks for license and insurance. He is taken aback not finding anyone at the driver’s seat. Instead, he finds a man fully drenched in the back seat.
Constable: Where is your driver
Mr Bakshi: There’s no driver. This is driverless car
Constable: What do you mean? You’re driving without a driver and license?
Mr Bakshi: this car drives by itself- It doesn’t need a license
Constable: Then why did it enter One Way street
: See, this road is shown as Two Way in Google maps
Constable: Are you saying we should make our rules based on what Google is saying? Pay Rs 1000 fine
Mr Bakshi: The car is programmed to pay fine electronically directly to traffic department. No need to pay you in cash
Constable: Then I can have this car towed to police station. It can electronically seek a release
Another 15 minutes of arguments later, car is allowed to move...
Another 15 minutes of arguments later, car is allowed to move...
Heading home, on Jayadeva flyover, a two wheeler rider is ahead of the Google self drive car, with his wife and 3 children positioned precariously all over the two wheeler. Both vehicles were proceeding at decent speed, at which suddenly the two wheeler rider loses balance and skids off on to the road along with other riders. The Google car behind tries to calculate how hard it should brake in order to avoid colliding with the two wheeler and its riders on the road. It determines that however hard it tries to brake, collision is imminent. Now the speeding Google car has two choices. Option 1: Collide with the two wheeler and people ahead, possibly killing many of them (5 souls) Or Option 2: Jump off the flyover, sacrifice one life-that of its owner and occupant. Car now had to make a quick decision and its algorithm was simple- save as many lives as possible! You can guess what option it chose. (Jeremy Clarkson of Topgear rightly had brought this issue up- what should the car be programmed to do in a situation where either people outside can be saved or people inside? Is it ethical to say “Save the car occupants at any cost, even it means running over pedestrians” or should car makers configure it to say “Save people outside even if it means wrecking the car and killing its occupants” or “decide which option kills minimum no of lives and chose that, even if the minimum no of live involves car owner!”
Headline next day: Driverless car commits suicide jumping off Jayadeva flyover, killing its occupant. Police suspect car was highly depressed after suffering wide range of humiliations all through the day.
Note: No persons or cars were injured or killed while writing this post.