Since 2004, the self-driving car technology has shifted from wildly experimental to evidently possible. Google, Uber, Tesla and other leading tech and automotive companies are in the race to produce the safest and most reliable self-driving cars. While the technology is undeniably the next step in the world of commercial and private mobility, capturing the attention of several engineers, and technologist the world over, the biggest roadblock to autonomous driving research and development is the barrier of entry. For small startups and individual researchers, access to self-driving platforms will remain an aspiration due to the high costs.
However, for senior, Benedict Quartey, addressing this gap is the focus of his capstone project.
“My project seeks to build a low cost modular autonomous vehicle development platform, aimed at providing students and researchers access to this technology,” he explained.
Not only are self-driving cars earmarked to revolutionize the car industry, research shows that the technology is expected to save close to 600,000 lives by 2045. Human error, accounts for close to 90% of motor accidents worldwide. Unlike humans, self-driving cars don't text, drink or are not as easily distracted while driving, and so will be less likely to be negligent on the road. An early 2018 World Health Organization study reported that of the 1.25 million people who die from road accidents every year, 90% of the fatalities occur in low to middle income countries. For Benedict, these numbers, and the promise of the technology, make it more fitting for the low to middle income contexts.
“In 2015 alone an estimated 246,719 people died in Africa due to road accidents,” he said. “The Ebola epidemic which in 10 months took 11,315 lives would have had to maintain its ferocity for a straight 18 years to even come close to the road fatalities of 2015. This is quite serious and deserves some attention. By introducing self-driving car industries in our context, we can save more lives on our roads.”
For his project, Benedict designed and developed a driverless platform, complete with a model car, allowing technicians, researchers and developers to become part of the ecosystem without dealing with high costs.
“I developed modular hardware and software infrastructure—complete with data collection pipelines —designed to allow African students and researchers to test their ideas and implement self-driving algorithms, using similar machine learning and control techniques used in the industry,” he explains.
As research in the industry progresses, it’s imperative the African market and rest of the developing world catches on. For Benedict, his project is just a start.