Why humans and robots together can make roads safer
Road accidents are a major threat to human capital and economic development in Bangladesh. The economic cost of road accidents is estimated to be two to three percent of GDP in developing countries according to WHO; but the loss of human lives, and mental and physical effects on the people involved in accidents and their families are irreparable.
According to compiled data from Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP), Bangladesh Passengers Welfare Association (BPWA) and Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA), around 1,500 people died in the first three months of 2018 and many more were injured in nearly a thousand accidents. It should be noted that many accidents in rural areas are not reported. Ninety percent of accidents occur due to drivers' errors and the natural slowness of human capability to take action in a dangerous driving situation while other causes are poor eyesight/vision, physical tiredness and distraction of drivers, and poor infrastructure.
Technological advancement has benefitted our lives in many spheres of life—from agriculture to healthcare, telecom to manufacturing, finance to aviation, etc. Think of the simple satellite navigation (satnav) device and how it has made our lives so much easier. We don't need to memorise complex maps or hold a map while driving to get to one place from another. The satnav system helps us plan ahead, alerts us when we exceed speed limit, reroutes if we wrongly exit a roundabout or motorway, notifies us of the traffic ahead and the locations of fuel stations, etc, that ultimately make us feel more in control while driving.
Similarly, advancement in research can help us create a nearly collision-free driving experience. We have Mobileye, a subsidiary of Intel, already deployed in over 15 million vehicles that have advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) which can alert the driver of a potentially dangerous situation so that corrective measures can be taken by the driver. For example, its forward collision warning (FCW) and pedestrian and cyclist collision warning to alert the driver if a collision is imminent, lane departure warning (LDW) to alert the driver if s/he is drifting from one lane to another, and headway monitoring warning (HMW) to alert the driver to maintain a safe distance between the driver and the vehicle ahead are some of the features. Not only that, its active safety systems like automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane keeping assist (LKA) and adaptive cruise control (ACC) intervene in a situation where a collision is imminent and if no human action is taken.
Here, we see the wide-range use of a semi-autonomous or parallel autonomy system, a kind of shared control set up between humans and robots to create collision-proof vehicles where robotics aids the driver as a guardian angel. An example of the parallel autonomy system would be the driver attempting to go too fast, turning the steering wheel more than necessary or about to run over a pedestrian in which case the robot will take control to prevent this from happening.
There are a number of cars already with the semi-autonomous system, e.g. 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, 2018 BMW 5 series, 2018 Volvo X Class, 2017 Tesla Model S and X, 2018 Cadillac CT6, Nissan ProPILOT, etc. By now one might be thinking that s/he needs to spend loads of money to acquire a vehicle of such safety technology but the good news is that this safety package will soon be available to fit in vehicles of any make, model or age. Currently, such safety-featured assistance can be outfitted within the budget of Tk 1,50,000 on most of the Honda Models and Toyota's Corolla Sedan and RAV4.
Planes around the world make more than 100,000 trips daily but the rate of plane crash is rare. This is due to modern equipment and use of strong sensors and IoT in the aviation industry that are designed to diagnose problems faster; this has paved the way for safer, smoother flights and acts as the last line of defence in order to assist or fully recover through automation from an imminent loss of control. Similarly, a combination of driving between human drivers and robots is the most ideal pathway to prevent accidents from happening in the future.
Considering the rate of accidents and fatalities on the roads, governments can incorporate various rules in order to ensure that imported vehicles are fitted with the aforementioned safety systems and gradually it can be made a mandatory requirement for all vehicles in the country once the system is widely available. While technological advancement and automakers can greatly contribute to creating a world where injuries and fatalities resulting from road accidents can be reduced, it is of paramount importance for everyone to stay alert while on the road and governments should ensure that reckless driving is duly punished.
ABM Kamrul Huda Azad is the CEO of B A Exchange UK Ltd, a subsidiary of Bank Asia Ltd.