IIT-Bombay students prepare for Mahindra Rise challenge scheduled for July

Mar 19, 2017, 02:24 IST | Kusumita Das

Banking on Artificial Intelligence, young minds are working on going driverless - in life and beyond

A prototype of the Aeternal as conceptualised by Roy and team
A prototype of the Aeternal as conceptualised by Roy and team

Even as automobile companies around the world invest big bucks in simplifying and heightening the driving experience, there's a parallel school of thought that appears to be steadily working towards eliminating the hands on the wheel, altogether. While a group of IIT Bombay students have made this an on-ground reality - albeit in a controlled environment - a Goregaon based graphic design startup, seeks to take the idea beyond a lifetime with their working module for a self-driven coffin.

Rishabh Choudhary and Ankit Sharma, fourth year B. Tech students from IIT-B have been a part of SeDriCa initiative (Self Driven Car) undertaken by the Society of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the institute. They have been on the project since 2014, bettering the concept that kicked off in 2011. Last year, they contested the Intelligent Ground Vehicle Challenge (IGVC) in the US where they finished fourth, having competed against 36 global teams, making them the top team in Asia.

Ankit Sharma and Rishabh Choudhary are currently testing a prototype of the driverless vehicle at the IIT-Bombay campus. Pic/Shadab Khan
Ankit Sharma and Rishabh Choudhary are currently testing a prototype of the driverless vehicle at the IIT-Bombay campus. Pic/Shadab Khan

A decade more to go
"Artificial Intelligence argues that humans are more prone to making errors, leading to loss of life and property. With optimum technology, what a self-driven car can achieve, could be more efficient than its human-driven counterpart," says Choudhary, who along with his team is currently testing the prototype on campus.

It's a three-feet long, two-feet wide automobile, less than six-feet in height. The team is currently preparing for the Mahindra Rise challenge that's scheduled for July, where they'll get to test the technology in a real electric car - the Mahindra e2o. "It will be another 10 to 15 years before we see driverless cars on our roads. A part of the technology requires that these cars ape the one in front of them. Imagine the dilemma of a machine that is programmed to follow traffic rules, while the car ahead of it is merrily breaking them. So, we need more driverless cars around, for them to understand each other's behaviour first, before adjusting to human driven vehicles," says Choudhary, 21. "Simply put, what we are working towards is a day when you can call an Ube that drives itself to your doorstep," he adds.

Abhishek Roy
Abhishek Roy

Beyond this life
The driverless coffin, however, which is still at concept stage, aims at eliminating the car (carrying the coffin) altogether, says Abhishek Roy, 29, founder of Lunatic Koweits. Speaking of the Aeternal, which is what the coffin has been christened, Roy says, "The concept, aside from eliminating the carriers of the coffin, is also about celebrating the journey of the departed. So, we have made provision for a holographic projection where a pop-up video dedicated to the departed can be played. It's another kind of eulogy, if you will." The coffin is made of transparent polymer, and holds a bed.

The structure is placed on a chassis that runs on memucan wheels that turn 360-degrees with the help of laser sensors. So, the coffin itself becomes the vehicle." The idea originated from a discussion Roy had with Canadian inventor Charles Bombadier, with whom he works closely. "At that time, we were talking of a self-driven hearse, and then we thought why not try and make a self-driven coffin," he says. Right now, they are looking at funding from "someone who sees genuine application for it".

The whole point of design, Roy explains, is to trim an idea to bare minimum. "The idea for the future is that humans shouldn't be used for physical labour. We are smart, and should be employed in more advanced pursuits."

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