“Innovation drives this world and we are driven to innovate,” says Anuj Agarwal, when describing the technology that he and his team Aeromobix Systems are developing to Auto Futures.
One look at the impressive work that they have been doing to make drive-by-wire technology a reality on Indian roads, and you begin to see that what he says makes so much sense.
Kolkata-based Aeromobix Systems was founded in March 2018 by CEO Anuj Agarwal, who happens to be an avid automotive enthusiast and an out-of-the-box thinker. Committed to deliver top notch solutions and services in the future mobility domain, the company is one of the only ones in India focusing on drive-by-wire technology.
Speaking to Agarwal, you can clearly tell that he is a firm believer of making things simple and getting the mundane out of life.
“Fly-by-wire, as we all know, was a complete game changer in the aviation industry. The large control surfaces of the aircraft that were once linked to the handlebar through complex mechanical linkages electro-hydraulic systems were now replaced by servomotors that could be controlled electronically using digital signals.
“This technology allowed the pilot to have indirect control of the aircraft, opening a wide scope for computing, intelligence, aircraft stability and navigational systems ‘in-between’ the pilot and the aircraft enhancing the aircrafts autopilot capabilities. All inputs now given by the pilot to the Joystick were processed by the on-board computer and validated before any manoeuvre could be initiated,” says Agarwal.
“It appeared to be something out of a science fiction movie!”
Inspired by this revolutionary fly-by-wire technology in the aviation sector, Agarwal developed perhaps India’s first joystick driven car retrofitted on the Maruti Suzuki Zen in 2001.
Back then, just a few companies across the world were experimenting with the possibility of driving cars with a joystick instead of the standard steering wheel, and Daimler was among the first companies in Germany to have emerged with this technology with the Mercedes SCL600.
“With no steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedals, the technology developed was way ahead of its time with very few takers. It appeared to be something out of a science fiction movie! But my strong belief that one day cars will be driven by joystick lead me to develop a second-generation vehicle in 2005. This vehicle was more advanced than its previous ally and a concept vehicle based on what we know as drive-by-wire today.”
This vehicle’s steering and braking system could be configured using an on-board processor and built-in GUI. But it was still early before anyone could envision the real utility of this emerging technology.
Though a few companies like Honda, Toyota, Nissan did start to develop vehicles that drove with a joystick, it was projected as a future mobility concept and often displayed in the confinements of Paris and Tokyo Auto shows to attract visitors.
“In 2005 Defence Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) announced the $1 million cash prize for development of autonomous vehicles in U.S. Teams from Stanford and Carnegie Mellon were among the first to develop autonomous cars among many others. In 2006, while I was living and working in California, I had the opportunity to witness the DARPA 2007 Urban challenge held at Victorville.”
Agarwal says this event completely changed his perspective. There seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel, since every car competing was using drive-by-wire technology.
“Autonomous cars could not move an inch without drive-by-wire capability. Back in India in 2010, I started working on yet another prototype of the third-generation drive-by-wire concept car that was finally developed on the Maruti Suzuki Celerio platform by 2015. This drive-by-wire vehicle was built to near OEM standards backed by years of my research and experience that I had gathered since 2001.”
Mobility Inspired from Planes
Today, drive-by-wire technology has found wide applications in the future mobility space empowering autonomous cars and other segments such as BEV, HEV & AEV’s. Some functionalities such as ADAS, LDW, Collision avoidance, Autonomous Electronic Braking (AEB) and Self Parking that are found in modern day cars is all enabled by drive-by-wire technology.
“Currently, the global drive-by-wire market is valued at USD 19.49 billion and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 8.86% during the forecast period and reach USD 34.63 billion by 2025 and then grow exponentially. Every car that we then see on the road will be equipped with a drive-by-wire control system with fewer components, modular design, improved reliability, intelligent and safety features make it a synonymous choice over conventional systems.
“Aeromobix, as the name suggests ‘mobility inspired from airplane’, is a new company and our different approach in design with thrust on road and passenger safety is what sets us apart. We have a long run ahead to catch-up with our competitors who are serving the high volume production car markets , but we have found a niche in the low to medium volume segment such as autonomous shuttles, in-community vehicles, vehicles for the physically challenged and other by-wire solutions for land, sea, and air applications.”
He adds: “It could be until mid 2021 before our systems meet regulatory requirements & certifications, in order to meet the growing OEM demands. In the meantime, Aeromobix will continue to develop cutting edge drive-by-wire technologies with some highly proprietary systems and features that most certainly could send our competitors back to the drawing board! We plan to showcase our some of our latest developments in March 2020 at a global conference being held in India.”
At present, Aeromobix is internally funded with zero debt. When asked if he wants to change that status, he told us: “Yes, we are open to seed funding in exchange for a stake in the company to take it to the next level. Our current revenue will be generated from automotive consultancy and engineering services and bespoke drive-by-wire systems and conversions that we offer for prototype vehicles up to 30 T GVW. We will also be constructing our own test track that is awaiting approvals at Kolkata as part of a strategic institutional tie-up.”
Agarwal concludes: “We wish to see Aeromobix as a dominant player in the drive–by-wire market. The challenges will remain in the form of competition and hence we will need to constantly push ourselves to the edge to keep up with forthcoming changes in technology to meet the on-going demands.”