The automobile industry of Pakistan has started to flourish as sales of vehicles have picked up over the last few months. Not only there has been an increase in sales of vehicles but also foreign automobile companies have shown their interest in setting up manufacturing plants in Pakistan. While the automobile sector is displaying signs of improvement, Pakistan is still far behind if compared with the automobile sectors of other countries.
Automobile companies are now not only thinking about manufacturing cars but they are also investing in research and development of autonomous cars. Companies like Google, Tesla, Uber, Apple, Audi, and more have already started to test prototypes of their autonomous vehicles. However, when autonomous cars will arrive in Pakistan is a mystery. Another major concern related to autonomous cars is, will they be able to sustain in Pakistan or not?
Considering the number of road accidents that usually take place in the country, it can be said that autonomous cars are necessary for Pakistan. According to the report of Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), there were 10,636 vehicles involved in accidents in 2015-16 which resulted in 3,591 fatalities. However, it is expected that autonomous cars can reduce the number of accidents in the country.
Pakistani automobile companies also need to start working on autonomous vehicles so that they can come up with a product (or a prototype) within next 5-7 years.
What impedes the production of autonomous vehicles in Pakistan?
High Cost of Production
The cost to introduce autonomous vehicles in the country will be high. The research and development expense required for the development of this technology can go into millions and billions of rupees. Moreover, with more production expense comes expensive products. Therefore, companies will pass the cost onto the customers, which will eventually limit the market size.
Infrastructure of Roads
Road infrastructure of Pakistan is another factor that may impede the production of autonomous vehicles. Despite the fact that PML-N government is currently spending heavily on road infrastructure development projects, presently roads in the country are not suitable for autonomous driving.
Machine learning or artificial intelligence technology takes time to understand the developed road structure, which unfortunately Pakistan does not have. Therefore, the government should focus on developing roads in urban and rural areas, should they need the autonomous technology to thrive in Pakistan.
Pakistan is currently going through a power crisis. The autonomous cars will work on rechargeable batteries and hence electricity shortage will be an issue. Batteries need to be charged in order to keep the vehicle working and if there is continuous load shedding than charging would be a problem. A proper infrastructure of charging stations also needs to be developed just like we have petrol stations in the country to support charging of autonomous cars.
When autonomous vehicles will come to Pakistan?
Even in developed countries, autonomous cars are in the test phase and they will only get approval from regulatory authorities after they have done enough testing to ensure that the technology is safe for roads. It is expected that self-driving capability will be achieved by 2020 in developed countries, which means that the technology will arrive in Pakistan 10-12 years after that.
Students of Mirpur University of Science and Information Technology (MUST) developed a self-driving car prototype, called EMO, with only two passenger seats for a cost of PKR 0.6 million. It took the students two and a half years to manufacture the prototype with features like Google mapping, auto-accident reporting, emotions inspired collision avoidance, and others.