Minus Zero aims to develop driverless vehicles for shared mobility in India

Earlier this month, an Indian start-up Minus Zero demonstrated its self-driving technology. This test vehicle (an electric 3W) travelled more than 2 km at a top speed of 20 km/h through the unregulated traffic in Jalandhar. The self-driving technology developed by Minus Zero relies only on the camera suite, with zero dependencies on lane markings and LiDARs.

The team aspires to introduce this self-driving technology through a shared mobility model (Mobility-as-a-service) with fully autonomous electric Robo-taxis. This bootstrapped start-up has been founded by two students – Gagandeep Reehal (CEO & CTO) who is pursuing his Computer Science engineering degree from Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology, and Gursimran Kalra (COO) and a final year undergrad at SRCC New Delhi.

We caught with the duo to find out more about their work and future plans.

We understand you do not use LiDAR i.e. the most common remote sensing technology for self-driving cars worldwide and relying on lane markings won’t work with Indian traffic behaviour. What can you share about the technology or approach taken by Minus Zero?

Indian traffic is highly unstructured and disorganized, making it the toughest testing grounds for Autonomous Vehicles.

Most of the Self Driving Car companies make heavy use of LiDARs which are expensive sensors. Also, due to the strong correlation between the accuracy of AI and the size of training data, Self Driving Car companies have to drive millions of miles to collect data to train their model.

We are building fully driverless cars, capable of Level 5 autonomy in even unstructured Indian traffic and roads, powered by an energy-efficient EV design and proprietary AI that is less dependent on extensive training data & expensive sensor suite (like LIDAR’s, etc.). Our nature-inspired AI architecture is able to extract greater insights from limited inputs that will help create affordable and standalone AI-enabled solutions with sector-agnostic benefits.

To make it simpler for the audience, we give this analogy – You do not show a human baby 10,000 images of a bird to make him capable of knowing that there is a bird in front of him. While many industry prototypes make heavy use of LiDARS and secondary sensors, our self-driving architecture drives the car similar to how a human does – using only his eyes, (camera in the vehicle’s case) along with few comparatively cheaper sensors for safety. We rely on behavioural analysis of non-ego vehicles including precise estimation of speed and predicted path of surrounding dynamic objects with remarkable computational efficiency, and estimation of the lane without any dependency on lane markings.

What prompted you to work on a fully autonomous driving solution for India?

India ranks no.1 in road accidents all over the world that claim approx. 500,000 lives every year. Out of this, 94% of accidents happen due to human error. With our self-driving technology, we aim to build a safer driving environment.

Moreover, by decreasing the number of vehicles on road through shared mobility, and reducing their carbon footprint through electric and autonomous vehicles, we will be contributing significantly to reducing the vehicular pollution levels.

Why did you choose to build and test your product/algorithms on an electric vehicle?

An electric vehicle or an electric motor, in general, is more precise and can be easily controlled by electronics and control systems to near precision, without much dependency on external localization sensors like IMUs (inertial measurement unit).

Moreover, we have to eventually switch to electric vehicles in near future, so why not now?

How long have you been working on this project?

Informally it been a year since we started working on it, but we formally incorporated a company 6 months ago.

Tell us something about the team at Minus Zero – size, average experience and what technical skills are at the centre? 

We are currently a team of 30. 25 from an engineering background and 5 from non-tech fields from institutes across India. The engineering team is quite diverse, balanced evenly across domains of Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Electronics, Automobile Engineering, etc.

What does the name minus zero signify?

The name ‘Minus Zero’ was sprung out of a hat in search of a catchy name. Moreover, its literal meaning, that is negative zero, can have a very significant scope in computer science and mathematics that the human race has not yet been able to comprehend properly.

Philosophically, ‘minus zero’ mean there is no room for error, i.e 100% – 0 = 100%.

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