Why Self-driving Cars Can’t Work in Kenya Just Yet

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Very many times when driving you feel like letting go of the steering wheel and just sitting there and seeing how far it can go well without losing direction. I do that. I know what some will say. But it feels good. On a straight road with no traffic, you can leave the wheel for like half a minute and you’ll still be on course. But you have to be very careful and keep watch of the road in case you accidentally veer off.Self driving cars kenya

This is a long article. You can download the PDF version here.

Very recently Tesla Motors rolled out something that has had the whole tech community talking. Something that I have called the biggest tech announcement of 2015. And I like to put it this way: You bought a car from Tesla, then one day you receive an over-the-air software update that makes it semi-autonomous. “When Autopilot is activated by the driver, the car will keep itself in its lane, change lanes where appropriate if the driver taps the turn signal, avoid vehicles and other hazards around it, speed up and slow down to follow at safe speeds, and, Musk said, generally behave like a safe and sensible human driver.”

[bctt tweet=”You bought a car from Tesla, then one day you receive an over-the-air software update that makes it semi-autonomous” via=”no”]

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Source

But even this is still far from perfect. And the drivers have been advised to keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times. Which of course many are not. The good thing is Tesla’s approach to self-driving cars is great and these cars are continuously learning what to do by themselves. And this is the greatest bit of all concerning this technology: Not the cars that can drive themselves, rather an intelligence base of vehicles that are continuously learning what to do by themselves. Making them more autonomous and more intelligent as the days go by.

 

A little history and explanation:

You probably first heard of self-driving cars from Google. They haven’t launched yet. And probably won’t for another couple of years. I am willing to bet Tesla will launch completely autonomous vehicles as early as 2016. Which is a wild guess, but nevertheless achievable. Earlier than Google cars maybe.

This is because Tesla and Google have different approaches to self-driving cars.

  • Google cars are relying on up-to-date 3D models of the entire route the vehicle will take. This means all intelligence the car relies upon has to be fed to it by a team of experts at a lab.
  • Tesla on the other hand have a different and very interesting approach. First of all the car can do everything a car should with a driver. Then it is using the drivers of the vehicles to feed information to their knowledge base. Meaning Tesla Motors don’t have to continuously feed information to the vehicle. There’s one Tesla Cloud where info is cross shared with every car. And this is great. For example one week after the update, drivers were reporting that the car could now do things better like slowdown in corners it previously sped through. Data from one car is useful for all other cars. And the learning continues.

This however doesn’t mean that the Tesla cars can beat Google cars. You still can’t enter a Tesla and tell it where to drop you and sit back and read a newspaper. But the future is bright and such stuff will be the order of the day sooner than we think.

 

But how exactly does a Tesla Car work?

A Tesla Model S comes fitted with a camera at the top of the windshield, forward looking radar in the lower grill, and ultrasonic acoustic location sensors in the front and rear bumpers that provide a 360-degree buffer zone around the car. Which simply put is something like this:

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source

These equipment enable the car to detect road signs, lane markings, other vehicles, and other things that may be obstacles. From this the car can know when to slow down, how to change lanes, when and where to overtake and many other things we’ll be seeing in the near future.

So basically the car is constantly aware of its environment. Everything around it.

You need to know that these cars are just like your computer. Musk calls them computers on wheels. They are charged like you would your phone and operated almost the same way. I mean they even receive software updates!

Read everything of Tesla Motors and how the cars work here.

There are other links below to some other useful sources you might want to read too.

 

So why wouldn’t this work in Kenya?

Now finally to the core of this post. So why do I think self-driving cars wouldn’t work in Kenya?

First of all we need to establish which car exactly. And the location in Kenya. If you were to import a Google car or a Tesla Model S into Kenya and place it in an open field it would work just fine. But try driving either through normal traffic in Nairobi or anywhere else and you’ll surely be joking.

I’m not saying Kenya is a rowdy, poor, third world nation that no good technology can work in. No. Kenya is beautiful and rich (richer than you can imagine) and developed and I love my country. (By the way we are the top tourist destination in the world!) However on matters traffic and self-driving, we are still a long way to go.

Let’s focus on the Tesla cars. They are well semi-autonomous for now. This will be changing in future. As we’ve seen they rely on the constant knowledge of their surroundings and the central cloud of information to know what to do.

We keep left while driving in Kenya. Unlike the US. But the UK keep left too and I doubt this would be a big issue.

The major issues that will make it impossible for you to enjoy autonomous driving of a Tesla in Kenya are unique. They include:

  • Public transport – this is something most developed nations will never understand. Something very unique and very helpful to most people in developing nations, yet the biggest problem in the transport industry. In Kenya we call them matatus. The drivers are rowdy, indecent and go about without the slightest care of other road users. Good luck handling a Tesla or any self-driving car through such.
  • Traffic signs – the Tesla car relies deeply on traffic signs to know what to do. We have traffic signs in Kenya alright. But they are messed up sometimes, let’s be honest. In some places they are perfect. But get out of the urban settings and you find nothing.
  • Kenyan Drivers – these will prove an even bigger hindrance to self-driving cars. Why? Well very few understand lanes and know when to stick to them. People overtake without reason. Hooting and honking and speeding away.
  • Road conditions – Well roads are getting better. We have really good roads in many areas nowadays. But there are still potholes and diversions and bumps that are not marked and corners that are not indicated and traffic police blocks that appear from nowhere and many other issues.
  • Mapping – We have made huge strides and most of Kenya is well mapped. But this is still an issue especially with cars that need to-the-inch accuracy. Real-time updates on road conditions, traffic situations, and accurate measurements of everything is very, very necessary for the success of everything.
  • Legislation – Thinking of it, I bet one can handle all the problems listed above. And I know you are probably saying those aren’t problems at all. The issue we cannot however handle yet is: are auto-driving cars legal in Kenya? Is it something we are ready for? Is it something that will be allowed or will it be banned? Think about it. (By the way are hoverboards legal in Kenya?)We all know drones are very illegal in Kenya unless with approval from I don’t know which body. Legislation looks to me to be the main problem that will face self-driving cars in Kenya. It is an issue in many areas however. There are still a lot of questions. For example who’s to be blamed when a self-driving car causes an accident?

 

The discussions should be up soon. The more we talk about such stuff, I guess, is the more we get people into seeing and knowing about the future. The future is bright. But people need to know what is coming.

Cars are not the future. Let me put that differently. Owning a car in future will be like owning a horse. So put aside your dreams of buying cars.

In future we will be getting out of the house and calling the car. It will come, pick you up, drop you off where you want to go and be on its way.

[bctt tweet=”Owning a car in future will be like owning a horse”]

Sources:

I got information from various websites. You might want to read more on the same.

  1. What’s the difference between Google Cars and Teslas? Read the answers on this Quora thread.
  2. Tesla has the right approach to self-driving cars. Read this from CleanTechinca.
  3. How Tesla Auto-Pilot works? Read this here from Fortune.
  4. Wall Street Journal; Tesla Aims to leapfrog rivals. Here.
  5. How Stuff Works; How the Tesla Model S works. Here.

6 COMMENTS

  1. I couldn’t agree more with you guys, but I think, if we focus first on public transport, ie, semi intelligent matatus, this would solve so many issues, first, there are too many matatus at anyone time in the streets of Nairobi, having a specific number that relies on information gathered on daily commuters, we would have the optimum number of these matatus, no more matatu madness and no more traffic jams as we would rid the city of the excess to serve other areas. but then again, cashless payment in public transport never took of, we’d need devine intervention for this to work!

  2. I think We Kenyans should take into consideration that tech is not just a simpleton of issue. We may keep on complaining of the legislations that exist(not bad to do so) but we should think of the enhancers ie..perfection of roads,strictness in issuance of driving licence to drivers,reduction in traffic moreso the pollutant ones to embrace the modern tech;electric vehicles for instance.

  3. By the way, have you heard the latest news? Uber made an order of 100,000 self-driving Mercedes sedans to be fulfilled starting 2016.

    Travis Kalanick, did a TED talk recently and i think, Uber has one of the best chances of making this work. It has aggregated lots of data from it drivers and that could be what is required to make self-driving cars work flawlessly.

    https://www.ted.com/talks/travis_kalanick_uber_s_plan_to_get_more_people_into_fewer_cars?language=en

    Interestingly, uber was to work with Tesla on the self-driving cars.

    http://electrek.co/2016/03/18/uber-order-mercedes-100000-autonomous-cars/

    Having 500k self-driving electric cars on the road that are available on demand, probably at a cheaper price than what people pay for human ubers, is another reason why i think the future will be awesome.

    • The future is awesome. But after how long will this trickle down to countries like Kenya where road networks are still a mess, importation is full of corrupt people, and taxation is still impossibly high?

      • Yeah, that’s a good question. It could happen in our lifetime, but am pessimistic about that. We are bad, that is why we can’t have good things.

        Well, Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. The future might be delayed, but we can’t really stop it no matter how messed up we are as a country.

        It should happen, it will happen.

      • It will happen for sure. And it’ll meet a lot of resistance in Countries like Kenya. But it will be an idea whose time has come and nothing will stop it.

        Tesla’s Model 3 launching soon will sure disrupt so many countries where it can be bought. But maybe Uber will be the effector in most countries with whatever plans they might be having.

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