Redefining India’s status in the global engineering world

by Ravi Pandit | KPIT Technologies 15 Jan 2017

Back in 2013, I recollect going through a list compiled by CNN. It was titled, ‘25 of mankind’s greatest engineering achievements.’ Naturally, I was curious to know which of the Indian achievements had made it to the list.

The Taj Mahal had made it to the list. Which was great but as someone working in the field of technology, I started thinking about all the engineering feats which we have achieved. Surely there were more than a few. Like India’s Mars Orbiter Mission or the world’s cheapest car – Tata Nano and so on. We also have some great achievements in the fields of medical science or biotechnology or micro-finance. But, I had some questions.

How proportionally do our engineering feats stack against the number of engineers that graduate every year? Shouldn’t we have even more engineering entries? Furthermore, in which areas can we achieve some of our biggest future accomplishments?

I believe that the automotive and transportation industry is a great platform where India has a huge role to play in engineering. We are well poised with our expertise and our understanding of the new-age automobile to make significant advances in automotive engineering. Let’s take a close look at how it is the right time for India to reposition itself a major engineering player through the automotive and transportation industry.


Software and electronics stronghold

In the 1900s, the automobile got conceptualised as a series of assembled mechanical components which took us from Point A to B. Today in 2016, the automobile has more lines of codes than a space shuttle. The electronics and software components in an automobile have proliferated to such a level that it can be argued that the car has turned into an electronic device!

Also, today’s automobile does much more than take us from Point A to B. It entertains us, takes phone calls, tells us about the weather and helps us navigate too. As the automobile evolved in functionality, we witnessed its mass adoption across the globe. However, a series of challenges related to the automobile have also cropped up over time.

This has led to some important questions around the automobile:

- How do we address the crunch in fossil fuels and the air pollution caused by the automobile?

- How do we significantly reduce loss of life and property due to accidents?

- Is there a better way to handle the impact of rapid urbanisation on the automotive and transportation industry?

Effective solutions using software and electronics are the answer to the above pertinent and many such questions around the automobile.

Enter the engineering talent pool of India. Every year more than 1.5 million engineering students graduate in India. If we combine our till-date expertise in technology with the numbers of engineers, there are wonderful feats to achieve in the area of automobiles and engineers at large.

India: A lot of challenges but also new opportunities

Nowhere in the world are the above challenges so pronounced as much as in emerging countries like India. India has a unique disposition to address these challenges.

On one hand, by 2020, India is expected to become the world’s third largest producer of cars. The automobile industry has achieved a growth of 8 percent this year (2016) and is poised to grow over four times to Rs 20 lakh crore in 10 years.

On the other hand, India loses $9 billion annually due to high traffic congestion. It has an accident victim survival rate of only 6-10 percent; a delayed emergency response compared to the world’s highest survival rate of 45 percent.

Some disruptive solutions are already in play. For example, in just two Indian cities, an estimated 798 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions cut has been achieved with commuters using Uber pool/ 30,000 litres of fuel saved. Considering the high growth around the automobile, the complexity of challenges and a strong disruptive community, I believe India is a melting pot of engineering opportunities.

And, in its bid to make automobiles greener, safer and connected, India will find its breakthrough engineering feats in the coming future.

Aiming for sustainable and green transportation


Sustainability has become a major challenge around the automobile. Let’s understand the policy atmosphere around green transportation. To encourage the adoption of fuel economy vehicles in the country, the Indian government has launched the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (FAME) scheme. This will help incentivise, develop, manufacture and promote the hybrid/electric vehicles market development and target a market penetration of 6-7 million vehicles per year by 2020.

India is working on electric and hybrid cars, multiple battery technologies, hydrogen fuel cells and new ways of generating CNG. With the introduction of CNG vehicles and the incentives provided for the same, the usage of CNG as an alternative source of fuel for transportation to mitigate CO2 emissions has increased considerably. Many companies have been extensively working on this and spending on R&D for participating in the clean, green shift. This provides for a fertile ground for engineering solutions in the field of alternate powertrains.

The central government is also working on new policy initiatives to encourage private investments in climate- friendly and sustainable public transport systems such as metro rail, non-motorised transport and other low carbon emitting systems in urban areas.

Moving towards safe transportation and driverless vehicles


As the automobile continues to evolve rapidly, we are slowly but surely moving towards an era where a driver’s intervention would be bare minimum while driving the vehicle.

It is estimated that by 2030, up to 15 percent of the new cars will be fully autonomous and this has triggered a demand for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) technology and safety features such as parking assistance, alert systems for approaching vehicles, people and objects, traffic congestion assistance, lane departure warning and cruise control.

The industry estimates that the global automotive safety systems market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 9 percent over the next few years. ADAS is rapidly developing into a powerful tool that will drive automobile safety over the next decade, creating a large business opportunity for many companies.

Broadening regulation to introduce a number of active and passive safety features will be an important step in this direction. With a number of top-of-the-line universities offering image processing, DSP and a vast experience of developing safety features to American and European markets should be noted.

Needless to say, most of the solutions around ADAS will be driven by engineering.

Moving towards connected transportation

The automobile is no longer a singular entity working in a silo. On a daily basis, the automobile connects to devices, infrastructure, other automobiles and pedestrians. By 2025, the number of vehicles is estimated to grow globally by an astounding 150 percent. In India alone, the number of cars will increase to about 35 cars per 1,000. This would amount to approximately 45–60 million cars on the road and in some cities more than 300 cars per 1,000 people. Combine this with India being among the largest smartphone markets in the world.

The traditional transportation paradigms are shifting across the globe due to the rising fuel prices, increasing traffic congestion, new CO2 emissions legislations and emerging smart city technologies. This has given rise to an improved collaboration between auto manufacturers, fleet operators, technology and wireless service providers to come up with connected transportation. It will enhance the use of technology that helps improve communication and provides convenience, while transforming the way we live and travel. As vehicles become more connected, software competency will provide an edge and open huge opportunities for the service providers.

There is also a spur of initiatives by the government in the same direction – smart transportation is an integral part of the Smart Cities mission in India.

Building technologies for a better world

KPIT is focused towards creating mobility which is safer, greener and more connected. Our R&D investments exceed 6 percent of our revenues – the idea is to perpetually develop technology IPs which solve real-life challenges.

From launching India’s first and largest Intelligent Transport System for UBS-II-compliant buses to deploying cross-continent automotive infotainment software which is part of over 3 million vehicles, we are connecting vehicles all across the globe. There is work happening in developing solutions for smarter transportation – solutions like real-time traffic modelling which will help in the quest to make cities truly smarter.

With over 20 patents in alternate fuels alone, we are working towards sustainable transportation – a recent proof of concept is KPIT’s electric bus launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Indian Parliament.

We’re also engaged with carmakers across the globe for making mobility safer through multiple facets of ADAS. May it be developing algorithms for warning collisions or processing images real-time, KPIT is trusted globally for developing safety solutions.

Similarly, there are other companies and start-ups from India working in the same direction. Now the question is: what is needed to redefine India’s status in the global engineering world?

Much-needed impetus

Over the last two decades, India’s role in engineering has mostly been around services. However, we are consistently moving up the value chain. While several efforts are already being pursued, I am inviting the industry to consider these for much-needed impetus:

Develop a collaborative ‘ecosystem’: A budding start-up community, an experienced engineering services industry and world class engineering universities – India has it all.

Collaboration amongst these stakeholders is a recipe for engineering breakthroughs.

As of 2016, India had 19,000 start-ups, one of the highest in the world. The global automotive engineering market is valued at US$ 265 billion and Indian automotive engineering service providers address only a fraction of this market.

The straightforward way of addressing a huge market, while solving the most complex engineering problems of our days is building an ecosystem here in India. This will help us break the perception about the distributed value we are bringing as a nation. The automobile and services industry should come forward to set practices that facilitate best practices and build a nurturing start-up environment. We should also ride the wave of active policy making by the government.

Various initiatives and policies are being undertaken by the Indian government to further promote the sector in terms of innovation, R&D, employment and investment. The Automotive Mission Plan 2016-26 (AMP 2026) envisions to make India one of the top three automobile manufacturing centres in the world, with a gross revenue of US$ 300 billion by 2026. Let’s put energy behind solving the most pressing needs at home and our solutions can be taken to global markets.

Volume to value: We discussed earlier of the sheer volume of engineers who graduate in India every year. There are select cases of innovative automotive work happening in colleges. For example, a scooter developed by IIT students which charges faster than a phone. However, to truly make an impact, we need to foster an environment where our volume of engineers translates into value of engineering breakthroughs.

The automotive industry here has a huge role to play. By enabling large-scale competition, the industry should ensure that our demographic dividend is fully utilised. Solutions which can make automobiles greener, safer and connected will have to come from our large number of engineers.

Invest in building an ‘Engineered-in-India’ brand: We see a lot of thrust around Smart Cities, Make in India and Digital India. The government has kick-started a campaign which is driving a lot of work in these areas.

However, India is home to several automotive R&D units in the world. This needs to be further leveraged as case examples. From 2009 to 2016, India’s exports in automotive components have doubled to reach US$ 10 billion.

Even though India is not at the peak of adopting latest automotive technologies, it surely is at the heart of building the latest automotive technologies for the world. For example, the connected car is yet to be fully adopted in India, however, it is surely being built in India for the world.

In policies around sustainable transportation such as the Automotive Mission Plan or policies around connected vehicles such as the 'Machine-to-Machine Roadmap', the government and industry have to work together to bring out the 'Engineered- in-India' brand.

To summarise, I would like to reiterate that India is well poised to achieve big engineering feats by working collaboratively towards making automobiles greener, safer and connected. We should set our eyes on building our own list of achievements.

More from Ravi Pandit:

- Tech-enabled transportation will be imperative to drive India’s Smart Cities agenda

- FAME India's focus on hybrids is laudable


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