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A Bengaluru-based not-for-profit plans to set up India’s first test track for driverless vehicles on the 1,500-acre second campus of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Chitradurga district of Karnataka.

The track is expected to be completed by next March, said Umakant Soni, chief executive of the not-for-profit AI and Robotics Technology Park (ARTPARK).

The track will provide companies and startups that aim to manufacture autonomous vehicles with an advanced computer-assisted track to test driverless vehicles in Indian conditions. “It will be one of the biggest testing tracks in the world for autonomous vehicles. India has a thriving auto sector. However, if you think of building an autonomous car company in India, you have to go to South Korea or the US to test it," Soni said.

ARTPARK was established by IISc, with support from AI Foundry, a so-called venture studio that partners with entrepreneurs and AI experts to help build AI firms. Soni is also the co-founder of AI Foundry.

ARTPARK, Soni added, is talking to automakers such as Volvo and some academic institutions. He didn’t name these institutions and declined to specify the cost, saying, “there are many variables at this point, which will get clearer as we move ahead".

Building an advanced, driverless test track can be a challenging and complex task.

One example is Alphabet Inc.-owned Waymo, which has its own private testing facility called Castle in California. Its track prepares Waymo drivers to handle challenges on the road, evaluate new software before its release to the company’s self-driving fleet and validate the system’s performance. When Waymo vehicles get on the road, the company gathers real-world data and analyses it “for interesting encounters", according to a Waymo blog.

“At Castle, we stage complex and rare scenarios — such as a person walking out of a porta-potty onto a street or a pile of garbage falling out of the truck in front of us—in a safe, controlled environment and test them over and over again, changing different variables, to ensure our self-driving technology can handle the wide range of situations it might come across," the blog adds.

Waymo has built a library of over 40,000 structured testing scenarios.

University of Michigan’s closed testing facility for driverless vehicles is another example. Called Mcity, it is a 32-acre site with more than 16 acres of roads and traffic infrastructure. It has a cloud-based, open-source Mcity operating system that runs on any internet-enabled device and controls all interactions between vehicles and facility features and infrastructure.

Tesla’s test track in Fremont, California, is smaller and shaped like the figure eight.

ARTPARK’s proposed driverless car test track is much bigger. However, India does not have any Level 5 (highest level) driverless cars as of now.

Globally, there are many companies investing in driverless cars, led by Google, Tesla, Apple, Baidu, BMW, GM, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Bosch and Volvo. Over 40 companies are developing road-going, self-driving vehicles, according to CB Insights data. These companies range from automotive industry biggies to leading technology brands and telecommunications companies.

That, however, does not imply that India does not have semi-autonomous vehicles. For instance, MG Motor India on Wednesday unveiled a personal AI assistant and autonomous Level 2 technology that will be featured in its upcoming mid-size SUV Astor. It is the first car to get a personal AI assistant in the company’s global portfolio. The car will have mid-range radars and a multi-purpose camera, which enables many advanced driver-assistance systems.

These include cruise control, collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning and prevention, headlight control, rear-drive assist and speed assist —all of which have been “optimized for Indian traffic conditions", according to the company.

“The proposal to build an autonomous vehicles’ testing track in a 1,500-acre area is a welcome move for both the automobile industry, technology companies and startups that are working on autonomous or driverless hardware, software and AI solutions in India," said Jayanth Kolla, founder and principal analyst of deep-tech research and advisory firm Convergence Catalyst.

India is “a hotbed for a number of autonomous vehicles solutions startups, primarily based in Bengaluru and Delhi-NCR, Kolla said. Companies such as Ati Motors, Quixote, Giscle Systems and Flex Auto are working on a number of computer vision AI, sensor-based hardware and software solutions for the autonomous vehicles industry. Of all the Indian startups, Netradyne and Hi Tech Robotic Systemz that develop solutions for the global companies are most promising."

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