How IIT-Madras’ Team Abhiyaan is solving road accident-related deaths in India with autonomous vehicles
Road accidents in India are an everyday phenomenon. It’s a sad reality that Indians die more in road accidents than any disease outbreak. According to various media reports, road accidents had claimed about 1.5 lakh lives in 2018.
Even during the coronavirus lockdown between March 24 and May 30, recent reports revealed that India recorded about 1,461 road accidents, where about 750 people lost their lives. This is what Team Abhiyaan from IIT-Madras tries to solve — the menace of road accidents caused by human error.
Conceptualised in 2014, the student team is building an autonomous, intelligent, and safe ground navigation system to eliminate the chances of accidents due to human error.
“According to reports, 94 percent of road accidents are caused due to human error. We are solving this issue by developing an autonomous navigation system that will replace the human being as a driver,” says Aakash Arul Mozhi Nambi, a senior member of Team Abhiyaan.
Autonomous vehicle solutions
According to the members of Team Abhiyaan, their journey began when they developed their first autonomous navigation ground robot Kernel 2.0. Aakash explains that the product is capable of navigating autonomously between two GPS waypoints fed into the software.
Kernel 2.0 was presented at the Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC) 2018, where the team bagged the 10th position other global competitors.
Later, the team launched Virat with an enhanced controller, algorithm planning, and optimised sensor fusion systems, along with other capabilities of Kernel. Virat was presented at the IGVC 2019, where the team scored the second place among 45 other global competitors.
“After developing the ground vehicle robots and achieving success, we are now focussing on making actual cars, autonomous. While the procurement of the parts got delayed over coronavirus lockdown, we are currently working on the software, and have created a simulation environment in our computers to test the software,” Aakash says.
At present, Team Abhiyaan is converting the electric vehicle Bolt to an autonomous vehicle with control for a dynamic environment. The vehicle, which is currently in the early stages of development, will be showcased at IGVC 2021.
Bolt will be equipped with drive-by-wire systems for software, and will have electronic controls for the throttle, brake, and steer. The vehicle, designed for urban roads, will have computer vision, cameras for identifying traffic signals and lanes, and will be able to control its journey.
Virat. Credit: Team Abhiyaan
Safety, security, and applications
Speaking about the safety and controls of the vehicles, Team Abhiyaan alumna Prathyusha explains that the Bolt will be equipped with several sensors to detect and avoid dangerous situations on roads. Further, in case the autonomous system of the vehicle turns rogue and uncontrollable, it will automatically shut down.
The team is also working on a manual switch feature for Bolt which will allow the driver to switch the vehicle to manual mode in case the autonomous system breaks down. Explaining about the autonomous navigation ground robots, the team said that Virat has a manual emergency stop feature which will be triggered if the robot gets out of control.
Speaking about the application, the team members say that the ground vehicles can be used for completing last-mile delivery services by ecommerce companies. The team also proposes the application of the vehicles in load transportation assistance to soldiers, as the design can be scaled up to carry heavy loads such as arms and ammunition.
Besides, the automatic navigation system software can be used in other vehicles, provided some hardware parts are changed. However, the team is currently focusing on building the autonomous vehicle and will consider the retrofitting aspect moving forward.
Aakash says that the cost incurred by the students to build Virat is around Rs 10 lakh. However, the cost for converting Bolt into autonomous vehicle is not yet certain as the team is still in the early stages of development.
“We are currently focussing on developing the technology and have not yet considered the pricing from the product point of view. The cost is high right now as we are using very high-end sensors and components for the competition guidelines. In a scalable model, for real-life application the cost will be much lesser,” he adds.
Bolt. Credit: Team Abhiyaan
According to Sathyan Subbiah, Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT-Madras, the execution of projects is completely taken care of by the students.
“This is entirely a student-driven team, and faculties only play an advisory role. The students pool in themselves, come up with ideas, and participate in competitions. While the institution does provide some funds for procurement of the parts, the students mainly look for sponsors to fund their projects,” Sathyan says.
The team is supported and sponsored by entities such as Roots Industries India Limited, Septentrio, Ansys, and Sparton. The team is also indebted to IITM alumni for supporting the innovations. Apart from participating in global competitions, the team is also looking to connect with suitable industrial stakeholders so as to develop and deploy autonomous navigation solutions.