While the world is pretty kicked up about Google’s driverless car project, we in Chennai can’t be too impressed by it, as we already have the share-autos, which frankly qualify to be the first self-driving vehicle ever because it is not uncommon to find the nominated driver of the vehicle actually travelling footboard on it.
I don’t know what precise technology Google’s project is based on. But it is a fair guess to say that Chennai share autos are automated on a revolutionary technology that is waiting to be patented: ‘A stationary body without practically any effort on its part can move forward, sometimes with the velocity of a rocket, when the said stationary body is caught in the queue at Tirupati’. Chennai traffic is mostly a denser Tirupati queue of vehicles, and quite conceivably share autos just get driven forward in the inexorable surge.
Still, Google engineers would do well to test their project in Chennai, which is well known for its long beach roads with their never-ending sudden and surprise vistas of the sea and even more never-ending sudden row of metal barricades, placed strategically to control speeding vehicles by the commonsense method of causing accidents to them.
If the driver-less car project comes to the city, as a Chennaiite I have a couple of questions to ask:
If the car is a self-driving one, who will — this is one area technology can never beat human beings —- cuss? For, driving in this city is usually divided as: 10% honking and 90% badmouthing at anybody within earshot on the road.
Will the car come equipped with the one thing that is more important than even the brake and accelerator on the city roads? I am, of course, talking about the horn.
Allow me to elaborate: Enterprising Chennaiites, over the years, have found a simple but highly efficient method to tackle the road rules when driving, which is to honk hard. In Chennai, when you press the horn non-stop — like the free-hit in cricket during which most of the rules for dismissing a batsman don’t come into effect — all road-rules practically become non-existent.
This is a typical every-day conversation on the city roads:
Motorist 1 (whose car had suffered a few dents): You were clearly over-speeding and, to compound it, you jumped lanes. You were trying to overtake on the wrong side. And there was no indication that you were about to take a turn.
Motorist 2 (who had caused the damage): (In a very reasonable tone): But I was honking, no?
This is usually a clincher. And I suspect this might happen in the future:
Prosecution Advocate: Your honour, the driver, a top actor, was drunk, he was overspeeding and he ran over people sleeping on the pavement
Defence Advocate: But milord, my client, a responsible and large-hearted citizen, though technically not at the wheel, was still sober enough to constantly honk.
Judge: (Adjusting his glasses) He honked? Why didn’t you tell this earlier? Well, case dismissed. The accused, who has been free all along, can continue to remain free.
Getting back to the Google’s project, reports say the car, while being self-driving, ‘provides an override that allows a human driver to take control of the car’. This makes some of us worry that whether this driverless car project is something modeled straight out of Chennai traffic signals. Again, allow me to explain: Automated and automatic signals in Chennai are — here we introduce the plot twist — manual. If it were aviation, they would have called it, fly-by-constable technology.
In a department that is perennially short of personnel, police authorities here have smartly understood that it is simply not viable to have a constable standing in the middle of a junction regulating traffic all day. Instead, they have wisely decided that the same constable could be put to better use by having him operate, from a discreet corner, the same signals at the same junction via a manual switch all day.
Well, if driver-less cars allow for drivers, then Chennai traffic police would like to call dibs on the underlying technological principle.
Whether Google is actually successful or not with this driver-less project, we in news journalism would like to point out that we are already ahead of them in the race. In the last few years, most of our reports have technically become reader-less. It is only a matter of time we also become writer-less.
In other words, the situation is many journalists may soon find themselves out in the streets. In which case, the driver-less cars better be safe!