Surprising uses of GPS!

Today is world tsunami awareness day! Taking this opportunity, I thought I will share with you some interesting technical stuff.

Friends, this is not a blog in the usual sense.  It is a compilation of scientific applications of GPS in different fields. I have taken this information from the net but mainly from some documents published by Smithsonian Institution.  I thought I must share this with you folks.

https://www.si.edu/ 

If you are scientific-minded, don’t miss the opportunity to view this site. 

GPS is a commonly-understood acronym that stands for “Global Positioning System,” which in turn is an interconnected system of satellites and receivers that allows for the precise pinpointing of locations anywhere on or directly above the earth. These sorts of systems have become very popular for everyday navigation, and many cars come with receivers installed to help drivers find their way to their locations. Maps applications on many smartphones also provide this sort of turn-by-turn guidance to help people get on the right streets and take the proper exits. Beyond this more “standard” navigation, though, global positioning systems also have a significant role when it comes to navigation on the ocean, deep in the forest, and in other largely “uncharted” areas.  

The current GPS is wholly owned by the United States, but they allow free usage of the same to everybody.

Several other countries and regions, in particular Russia, the European Union, and India, have or are in the process of creating their unique systems. It is to complement the US version but potentially also to augment it and protect local users in the event of failure or other disabling of the services. 

The heart of the system relies on 24 satellites that orbit the planet twice per day. Devices that are equipped with GPS equipment receive transmissions from at least a few of the satellites and can discern exact positioning data. The first of these satellites was launched in 1974, and it wasn’t until 1994 that the 24th entered orbit. New satellites are periodically launched to replace ageing ones. 

The discussion is going to be a bit technical, but I will try my best to make it in English instead of techy language.  

I was surprised to find that GPS can be and is being used for some other applications too! It is nor surprising in the technological world. The human brain can find many different uses other than the intended usages. 

GPS is being used to 

  • Analyse atmosphere 
  • Probe the snow 
  • Sense a sinking 
  • Monitoring the Volcano 

I was also equally surprised to know these usages of GPS systems. I will briefly share how this is done. 

Analyse atmosphere 

Water vapour, electrically charged particles, and other factors can delay GPS signals travelling through the atmosphere, and that allows researchers to make new discoveries. 

A group uses GPS to study the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere that is available to precipitate out as rain or snow. Researchers use these changes to calculate how much water is likely to fall from the sky in drenching downpours. 

GPS signals are also affected when they travel through the electrically charged part of the upper atmosphere, known as the ionosphere. Scientists have used GPS data to track changes in the ionosphere as tsunamis race across the ocean below The force of the tsunami produces changes in the atmosphere that ripple up to the ionosphere. These changes help in predicting details about tsunamis.

Probe the snow 

A typical GPS receiver mostly picks up signals that are coming directly from GPS satellites overhead. But it also picks up signals that have bounced on the ground you’re walking on. It is then reflected up to your smartphone. 

For many years, scientists had thought these reflected signals were nothing but messy interference of signals. Scientists started looking at the frequencies of the signals that reflected off the ground. Depending on how those combined with the signals that had arrived directly at the receiver. By studying these two signals, a scientist could deduce qualities of the surface that the echoes had bounced off.  

Such a study allows scientists to learn about the ground beneath the GPS receiver. For instance, how much moisture the soil contains or how much snow has accumulated on the surface. The more snow falls on the ground, the shorter the distance between the echo and the receiver. The technique is beneficial in areas like Arctic and Antarctica, where having physical weather stations is not practical.  

Sense a sinking 

Scientists placed one GPS station on the concrete roof of a primary school. They set up a second station nearby, atop a rod hammered into a rice paddy. If the ground is sinking, then the second GPS station will look as if it is slowly emerging from the ground. And by measuring the GPS echoes beneath the stations, the scientists can measure factors; the factors as how much water is standing in the rice paddy during the rainy season. 

Monitor a Volcano 

Many volcano observatories, for example, have GPS receivers arrayed around the mountains they monitor, because when magma begins shifting underground that often causes the surface to shift as well. By monitoring how GPS stations around a volcano rise or sink over time, researchers can get a better idea about where molten rock is flowing. 

Before the big eruption of the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii, researchers used GPS to understand which parts of the volcano were shifting most rapidly. Officials used that information to help decide which areas to evacuate residents from. 

I hope you liked this compilation. The scientific theories behind these applications are too techy. Hence I have avoided using technical terms and tried to make it easy to understand.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Millennial Work-Life balance!

 

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The above image is eutopian image of working from home!

In the last thirty years, Work-Life balance has gone for a toss! But there are new generation Millennials who are changing the thinking — a millennial is a person reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century.

Work-life balance is the lack of opposition between work and other life roles. It is the state of equilibrium in which demands of personal life, professional life, and family life are equal. Work–life balance consists of, but it is not limited to, flexible work arrangements that allow employees to carry out other life programs and practices.

The term ‘work–life balance’ is recent in origin, as it was first used in the UK and US in the late 1970s and 1980s, respectively. Work–life balance is a term commonly used to describe the balance that an individual working needs between time allocated for work and other aspects of life. Areas of life other than work–life can include personal interests, family and social or leisure activities. Technological advances have made it possible for work tasks to be accomplished faster due to the use of smartphones, email, video chat, and other technical software. These technology advances facilitate individuals to work without having a typical ‘9 to 5’ workday.

People who began working until the late 1980s were docile people and would accept all the rules and regulations of their workplace. Over a period of time, the demand for work and the employee time started going up and up. Through the 90s, the work graph started going up exponentially. Over a period, it became fashionable to be in office for ten to twelve hours a day, and later it became routine. Slowly the long working hours became the norm; going home at the regular time was jokingly called “half-day” leave.

These changes, plus long travel times, made work-life balance totally imbalanced. Competition in business and rat race amongst employees gave a different meaning to this imbalance. People were getting scared to take a couple of weeks of holiday with the fear that if work moved smoothly in their absence, they could become redundant. Such situations made life even more stressful.

I will share a couple of stories, which I may have shared in some other blogs before. A friend came to my house one evening and asked me if I could spend a couple of hrs with him. It was an emergency. We went out, and he said he was doing very well in his job, but his work-life balance was so disturbed that he did not feel like to going office even for one day. I suggested that he should resign. He did resign his job in a week and got an even better job but with better work-life balance.

Another friend went to the US for work for a couple of months. His daughter was unwell, and there was a significant repair work pending at home. One day we had gone to meet his wife. At that time, our friend called and told his wife that now he had to travel to Germany and he would be in Germany for three months for work. We did not know how to console his wife!

In the first story, the friend did not have a choice, but in the second story the friend was senior enough, and he could have decided to travel back home for a couple of weeks before going back again. Workaholic? Or Who cares?

But I am pleasantly surprised to read about the way millennials are looking at the situation these days. When they look for a job, they look for prospects, salary, benefits and flexible working hours. Flexible working hours are now becoming as important or even more important than the salary. Millennials look at the job as a part of life and not the central part of life.

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Each human has the responsibilities of the family. It could be some repairs at home, Parents-teacher association meeting, helping ailing parents, supporting the spouse when the spouse has temporary additional work pressure. I also agree that these are also equally important aspects of life. Human should continue to enjoy professional work, but if the work is going to prevent the person from fulfilling other responsibilities or having a yearly holiday, something needs to be done.

We read of many examples where people accept a significant pay-cut to achieve work-life balance. If the money you are earning can never be used for enjoyment or support family responsibilities, what is the point in making that money? For many people, work has become an obsession, long hours and endless struggle to aspire to do better in job. It has caused burnout, unhappiness and gender inequity, as people struggle to find time for children or passions or  any sort of life besides what they do for a paycheck.

But increasingly, younger workers are pushing back. More of them expect and demand flexibility — paid leave for a new baby, generous vacation time, along with daily things, like the ability to work remotely, come in late or leave early, or make time for exercise or meditation. The rest of their lives happens on their phones, not tied to a specific place or time — why should work be any different?

Today’s young workers have been called lazy and entitled. Could they, instead, be among the first to understand the proper role of work in life — and end up redefining work for everyone else?

It’s still rare for companies to operate this way, and the obstacles are more significant than any company’s H.R. policies. Some older employees may think that new hires should suffer the way they did, and employers benefit from having always-on workers. Even those that are offering more flexibility might be doing it because current unemployment is so low in certain parts of the world, and they’re competing for workers, which could change if there is an economic downturn.

But such luxury is not possible for many people. People working on the shop-floor of the manufacturing industry, the police, the doctors and nurses, and many such workers cannot work from home whatever modern technology we invent. But the effect of millennials working for better and more flexibility will affect other sectors. Such cascading effect could make the life of workers better than what it is today.

Jack Maa of Alibaba had suggested to his workers to work 996. Nine to nine every day for six days a week. You may get a very high salary but when will you spend it? When will you rest? When will you have quality time with your family?

But the same Jack Maa has now suddenly changed his advice to work three hours a day four days a week.

https://tech.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/corporate/jack-ma-says-12-hour-work-week-could-be-the-norm/70892513

With technological advances, this is possible in specific industries. Probably people are thinking in the right direction. I am quite sure that once people get real flexibility in work, they won’t mind working a few times even while they are on a holiday. It is going to be possible because your work tools are available to you, 24/7 at the tip of your fingers.

Imagine you are lying on a seashore surfing both on the sea waves and on the net! A vital customer calls you and requests you to resolve his critical issue. Maybe you will do it because your company is taking care of your flexibility needs. So why not go out of the way and help the client?

That day hopefully is not far and it will be Win-Win situation for everybody!

Autonomous or Driverless Cars! (Part I)

 

 

For some time, I had in mind to read and write something about Autonomous or Driverless Cars! I started reading about these sometime back; I am really fascinated by the technology involved. From whatever little I have understood; I feel that these cars will have higher technology involvement compared to EVs. ( Electric Vehicles) Anyway, making the drivetrain in IC Engines is technology wise more complicated than the making EV drivetrain. (EV drivetrain might feel complex today because it is new) I will keep on sharing with you the information (not knowledge) I will acquire over time. My initial attempt will be a little scattered as there many things to understand and absorb.

A self-driving car (sometimes called an autonomous car or driverless car) is a vehicle that uses a combination of sensors, cameras, radar and artificial intelligence (AI) to travel between destinations without a human operator. To qualify to be called fully autonomous, a vehicle must be able to navigate without human intervention to a predetermined destination over roads that have not been adapted for its use.

The companies which are already in this field are Google’s Waymo, Apple, Volvo, General Motors, Tesla, Volkswagen, Nissan, to name a few! Many of these companies are NOT into car manufacture but are developing this technology as they have the wherewithal! As usual, who will end up at the top in the race only time can tell. There will be mergers and acquisitions. To my understanding, only Apple and Google have the money to manufacture the cars too! But I have my serious doubts if they will get into car making.

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The above graph is showing data from 10 companies. It shows the number of miles driven before the manual intervention is needed while driving autonomous cars. Waymo needed manual intervention after every eleven thousand miles, whereas Apple needed manual intervention after every 1.1 miles. It indicates that Waymo and GM Cruise are way ahead of others in this technology. It also shows the safety aspect too! If I have to buy a car, I will buy a car using Waymo technology.

Which other aspects need to be checked and discussed? To start with, I am going to deal with the type of automation that is available in these cars. I used to visualise that an autonomous car means there is no steering wheel, one sits in the car, punch the destination and start chatting with your flame. But, that is not what it is. There are five stages of automation.

  • Zero level starts with humans doing the driving.
  • Level 1 is an Advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) to aid the human driver with either steering, braking, or accelerating, though not simultaneously. ADAS includes rearview cameras and features like a vibrating seat warning to alert drivers when they drift out of the travelling lane. It means some automation starts at this stage. Currently, an automated clutch change system is available (not the Automatic-transmission) which changes gears based on the car speed, without human intervention. Clutch in the car is operated automatically, but there is no clutch pedal.
  • Level 2 is an ADAS that can steer and either brake or accelerate simultaneously while the driver remains fully aware behind the wheel and continues to act as the driver.
  • Level 3 is an automated driving system (ADS) that can perform all driving tasks under certain circumstances, such as parking the car. (Parking assist) In these circumstances, the human driver must be ready to re-take control and is still required to be the main driver of the vehicle.
  • Level 4 is an ADS that can perform all driving tasks and monitor the driving environment in certain circumstances. In those circumstances, the ADS is reliable enough that the human driver needn’t pay attention to driving.
  • Level 5 is the vehicle’s ADS that acts as a virtual chauffeur and does all the driving in all circumstances. The human occupants are passengers and are never expected to drive the car.

From the current information available the Level 5 is far away from reality. It is not about the autonomous system. But the new system will need changes in insurance policies and laws, legal aspects of driving and responsibilities in case of an accident.

Each of the companies has their vision for autonomous cars. I was surprised to find that Nissan Leaf, the Nissan EV is one of the leading Electric Vehicle, which also has added autonomous systems to some extent. What are those?

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This button is called de-stress button. When you press this during driving on the highway, it does the following things.

  • It allows you to set a distance between the car ahead of you.
  • If required it comes to a full stop
  • When the traffic restarts, it starts driving back on its own!
  • It keeps the car at the centre of the lane while driving, and this is also done when there is a smooth curve, controlling the speed if required.

driverless4

The picture above is E-pedal. You can theoretically accelerate and brake with the same pedal. You press it; it goes boom! You start reducing pressure, it starts braking. But there is brake pedal available too, just in case! Even on the hilly roads, one can drive with a single pedal, if required.

There are many such features on these cars, but we will discuss them over a period. How are autonomous vehicles going to change many things? What benefit will they offer to humanity?

First and foremost is that the number of accidents can reduce. Accidental deaths will come down over a period. But there will be many legal changes needed. Laws will have to be made and passed by the highest authorities.

Another technical change is that these cars will generate significant and vital data. This data will have to be stored and processed online many times. It will develop a new field of data science. How this will change the car driving is anybody’s guess. Will it eliminate the jobs of many drivers? Only time will tell. One thing it has done. One company in Pune, a multinational, has hired several hundred people to process the visual data captured during testing by autonomous vehicles. The data is treated and uploaded into the database. So, some new types of jobs will get generated.

One new problem could come up. Both husband and wife will be relatively less stressed when they reach home in autonomous cars. So, they will have enough energy to restart the argument which had to be stopped as both went to office! But on a serious note, life on roads will be simpler over a period.

Future of the Auto Industry!

I have been writing Auto Industry in general, and EVs in particular. I will now add driverless vehicles in the subject list in future! I had my career in the auto industry and have dealt with Tatas, Mahindras, Maruti, Bajaj, Eicher, and the gang. I had an idea the other day why not bring the blogs written by me together. So here I got my six blogs;  I combined and presented them in the Microsoft’s new presentation software Sway!  I request all of you to “See” these on Laptop or a PC! If you have Chromecast connected to your large TV, use it to see on the TV directly from the mobile phone. You will enjoy the presentation. Happy viewing or “seeing”!

The matter, of course, is worth reading too! I will keep on adding to this presentation as I write more blogs in the future!

I am not sure how the presentation link will work in this blog on WordPress. Hence, I have included the link in the communication.

I am giving the link for the presentation. If it does not work on clicking please copy, paste and view!

 

 

 

The long and short of the Queue!

A queue is a line of people or things waiting to be handled, usually in sequential order starting at the beginning or top of the line or sequence. In computer technology, a queue is a sequence of work objects that are waiting to be processed. The possible factors, arrangements, and processes related to queues are known as queueing theory. What do the queues do? They make life orderly, save time!

q1

But one thing I have never understood is why the word queue is spelt as queue and not Q! The spelling is the quirk from the English language!  

Forming a queue is the indication of a developed and organised society. Yes, we in India are not a developed society! What does a line indicate? It indicates that people behave in an orderly fashion; if the line is too big, then there are obviously a smaller number of windows than needed. If the line is moving slowly, then the person handling the work or the work process is inefficient. Or it indicates that the quantity of things being offered is limited. (school admission forms) People sometimes reach very early to enter a match arena. I remember that when I went to Melbourne to see the Cricket world cup finals, there were no big queues! The total number of spectators was 93 thousand plus. We reached inside the stadium about 45 minutes before the start time without any hassle or jostling 

Queues are the reflection of the world. The society has always been divided based on cast and creed. To manage complications, the boarding process at the airports is handled differently. While you board a flight, there is a separate queue for first/business class and others! Those who pay a significant additional chunk of money, get priority for boarding and deplaning. Is this fair? Yes and no both. Honestly, the flight takes off only after ALL the cattle class and the privileged board. Still, the boarding distinction takes place. It is done probably to pamper the ego of a particular category. Some want to pay more, get on the plane only at the last moment. But a separate queue is a fact of life. Frankly, what happens by boarding late, I have never understood. Ego boosting? 

A lot of discussions take place on this subject. Should human rights be the same for all? Can the state or an airline sell the rights at a higher price? Priority access is given any many places like theatres, theme parks and many such public areas. In India typical jumping the queue is done at the Balaji Mandir at Tirupati. The passes are sold at a fee, that gives priority to jump the queue.   

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Many people do not have time these days and are always in a hurry! Why does it happen? It is their mindset; let me do things quickly. In India, we see many such people. On an inquiry counter, they barge to the front without standing in the queue. When someone objects, they will claim that they have only half a minute inquiry!

A priority access line allows people to choose what resource they want to use to get to the front – time or money. For many people, time is more precious than money, so being able to hand over money to save time is a boon. The other side of the argument is if the service offered is efficient, reasonably quick, then people do not mind waiting for a few minutes. The value of the service provided depends on the actual service that is being offered. If the process of sending a parcel takes a couple of hours at a post office, then it is a strict no-no! But if the renewal of passport takes a couple of hours people do not mind.  

That brings me to the passport renewal process in India. First and foremost, one can apply only online. There is no manual process hence no queues. The application is locked after the required documents are uploaded. Based on dates availability, the appointment is given online. All are expected to be present at the office 15 minutes before their appointment time. At the allocated time, people are let inside the premises. You are generally done in one hour. For senior citizens like me, one can walk in at any time suitable. I came out in thirty minutes flat. Yes! There is a set procedure for priority appointments for an additional fee! Why should this be available? Sometimes an emergency crops up in life which needs jumping the queue! This emergency could be because of real crisis or neglect!  

But there are situations where people love to be in the queue. For example, a famous cell phone is launching a new model! Some renowned brand is launching shoes! People love to stand in line. When McDonalds started its first outlet in Pune, people used to stand in queue for some time to visit them. The queues continued for the first six months!  

When people are in the queue for entry into a sports stadium, waiting to enter a theatre to listen to their favourite crooner, they love it. It is treated as recreational queuing! People chat, smoke, have ice cream and have fun. Nobody cribs standing in these queues.   

Priority queuing will depend on what service is being offered. When people go to buy grocery, they hate waiting for checking out. Such businesses are already proving facilities like selfchecking counters for those who have purchased less than ten items at a time. Now they are providing apps where the buyer can scan the barcodes on their cell phones. When the last purchase is made, buyers can pay using their cell phone apps directly. The method makes checking out hasslefree.  

Does all this mean that the class is being replaced by money? Market forces take over. I read a facility provided in an office building in olden days. People used to get fed up of waiting for the lift/elevator to take you up; during peak period queues were long. They provided mirrors inside the lifts. As soon as people got inside the lift, most would adjust their clothing, ties, scarves, dresses and suits! They used the time to make themselves presentable. The provision of mirrors reduced the cribbing to a great extent. I never knew the reason for putting the mirrors in lifts!  

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Technology and evolution have changed many things, and it has changed the interaction of people standing in the queue! Oh, I am sorry! There is no interaction, people keep on looking at their respective screens! Technology has created a new situation. When we chat with Customer Service Support of some companies, the first thing that generally happens is that we get a message. “You are in the queue. Your call is valuable to us. One of our executives will attend to you shortly.” The music starts. Shortly can become annoying five minutes too!  The “person” chatting with you could be a BOT! Of course, there is always a variant in the message! You are our Gold Customer and will be attended to on priority!

I know that with most of you, my blogs are in the queue for your attention! But I will respond to you right away if you write to me! You are all Gold for me!

 

 

  

India Shining Silently!

Among the political upheavals, hyperbole things are changing in India, slowly but surely. There was a political slogan, India Shining,” sometime back. But India is silently shining. The surprising part is that the change is happening on the Engineering side of life. The engineering feats are not sexy like IT, where smart men and ladies market their achievements.  

I read a couple of news items today. I found them very interesting for a different reason. One of the articles was about railways, and the other was about DRDO. 

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/indian-railways-piyush-goyal-premium-trains-rajdhani-shtabadi-5796304/ 

I will talk about the railways one first. When we speak of railways, we visualise historical systems, dirty platforms, and bogeys. In general, we get to remember inefficiency everywhere. But this article shares details about how a 20-year-old problem was resolved by Railway Engineering arm. The problem was about LHB coaches which were put into service; these were imported from Germany. There was a problem of coaches shaking, giving jolts while braking or at a higher speed. Railway team found a solution locally. There were about five thousand coaches involved. They replaced the Center Buffer Couplers with new design couplers. They also found that the usual braking method also caused these jolts. Hence they asked the drivers to use regenerative/dynamic braking system when speeds were above 30 Km/hr. With a combination of these two, jumping teacups and jolts have become history. There were 5000 such coaches, but with proper project management, the work on all of them was completed in two years. These stories don’t come out with fancy celebrations; these projects were done as part of routine practice. Great story to make everyone proud. 

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-israel-spike-anti-tank-missiles-drdo-5796306/ 

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The news above is another silent development of a highly complex military requirement of anti-tank missiles. Initially, the order was placed with Israel, who had a fierce competition with the US. This order was placed in 2014 for 351 launching systems and 8000 plus missiles worth US $ 500/ millions. Indian organisation DRDO (Defense Research and Development Organisation) was also in the process of developing the missiles locally. After successful second stage testing at Ahmednagar, the government decided to cancel the contract with Israel and go ahead with DRDO under Make In India initiative. These weapons are highly sophisticated and use infrared technology which has been proven during testing in hightemperature regions of Rajasthan deserts. No fanfare, the sheer hard work is the key to such success stories. Again this is the story of excellent project management where DRDO will deliver all the systems by 2021 as per requirements of the army! Kudos to DRDO. 

At the end of the second world war, Japan and Germany had lost, and many of their factories and cities were destroyed. All the treaties that were signed ensured that they would not resurrect rapidly. But somehow these nations rose literally from ashes like the Phoenix bird! All this was achieved due to the dedication, will power to excel and love for the nation.  

India, as we know today, became one nation for the first time at the time of independence. With the diversity of people, religions, languages, cultures, it was like Europe or much more complicated. Getting people together itself has been the greatest achievement of the last century, though we do not realise this. India has another significant problem. Our diverse culture has been very mature and has an old history of thousands of years. So, specific thoughts and beliefs are ingrained very firmly in our minds. We take time to change. Added to this was the large population. That India has survived and prospered is a miracle by itself.  

Slowly, we have started to learn to keep the diversity at home and now work together with professional pride as a single proud nation. Reading the above stories gives great hope to me about our great nation and people.  

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The viaduct of Pune Metro!

There are many such stories which are known to us, and we have started taking things for granted. Metro railway is an institution built singlehandedly by the doyen of this technology E Sridharan. He was also instrumental in developing the Konkan railway system. The system was one of the most stringent projects to build because of the tricky mountainous terrain. What Sridharan did was a technological marvel, management marvel. All the projects handled by him were always completed on time.

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Konkan Railway Bridge on the river Panval

My classmate Shashikant Limaye was the chief engineer for bridges on the Konkan Railway project. Shown above is the bridge designed by him on the river Panval (Yes it is supposedly near my native place Panval, where I have never been!). This bridge is 80 meters high from the ground level. It is considered a significant technical achievement in the project. How do people like Sridharan achieve such things? Looking into the smallest of the details has ensured everything works like clockwork on these projects. There is an exciting story about Sridharan. As the Metro lines started becoming operational in Delhi, he would visit different sectors every day to begin his work. Where he would go was not known to anyone. As he entered the station, he would bend and check if there was dust on staircases and escalators by wiping with his hand. What was the result of this dedication? Delhi, Jaipur, Kochi, Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune, Hyderabad, Lucknow are all having Metro lines or are in the process of installation. All projects have always been completed on time.  

These projects have proven that in India, we can do worldclass technical work and have excellent project management abilities. In the example of bogeys, do not forget that these bogeys were not in one place but spread all over India. The work was completed without hampering the regular services.  

We have been doing great things in Technology. ISRO has already proven that it is India’s showcase worldclass organisation. It competes and beats others from the world in quality, performance and equally importantly, costs! 

On the business side Reliance has done a fantastic job of creating world-class large business; they have proven the same again in their Jio venture too!

But somehow we are not able to go up the value chain in other areas where we can do it. I am talking about the IT industry. They started doing well in ’90 s of the last century with Y2K! They started making big money and started getting large service contracts. Such contracts led to making even more money. In 20 years, these companies became very large, and have so much money that they did not know what to do with that money. Recently they started buying back their own shares from the market. The buyback indicated that they had no plans for developing new skills and gaining expertise in more modern areas. They have still not shown the willingness to go up the value chain. They have the people, the money but lack the will! I sincerely hope that these companies invest some money, human resources, and efforts in creating world-class products! Don’t just become Billionaires; become proud owners of great products!  

 

 

 

EV Conundrum!

 

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I am back to my favourite topic, Electric Vehicles or EV! A couple of days back there was a meeting called by NITI Ayog to discuss and decide EV policy for two-wheelers, in India. I am going to write only about the Indian scenario. My observation is that the electric four-vehicle of similar specification as the IC engine costs almost double the price. Plus per charge range of these vehicles is about 110 km. The specs are not good enough for the car to be used for out of station travel. With these limitations, it is going to be challenging to sell such vehicles. But in two-wheelers, I have observed that the price of EV’s is comparable with IC engine version. Distance travelled using two-wheelers is much less compared to four-wheelers. In India, parking two-wheelers at home is manageable compared to four-wheelers.

There are many angles to this issues. First and foremost is the fuel. With limited petroleum product reserves, there is bound to be a tough situation for the whole world if no action is taken, we will have difficulties. Add to this a new dimension; the US has threatened India to stop buying oil from Iran or else! If the US is so much worried about the whole world vis a vis Iran, then they should sell Oil to India at the same price as sold by Iran and that too in Rupees! But the US can get away with anything in diplomacy.

Petroleum product based fuels are adding to pollution is a known fact. The whole world is trying to reduce pollution by tightening the pollution norms, but apparently, there are limitations of investments to achieve the goals. Again the US has opted out of the body which is trying to track pollution world over. Again, it is the act of a bully.

All the nations are trying to reduce pollution in their cities and India is also trying its best. NITI Ayog meeting was held for the same purpose. Four-wheelers are still miles away from reaching the balance between the price targets and the cost. As four-wheelers will be expensive, their sales will not match current sales volumes at a price expected today. The second most crucial aspect in India is the challenge of charging the car batteries. Majority of the cars in India are parked in public places. Many of them are parked on roads and streets. How to provide a facility to charge batteries for such vehicles? Do we provide charging points on roads like we have parking meters? I don’t think that is a practical way of doing it. Another issue is that fast charging techniques are coming up but are still not good enough. With such limitations, NITI Ayog is trying to put pressure on the two-wheeler segment.

As already discussed, EV’s in this segment will have a comparable price, and because of lesser parking issues, charging the batteries using home electrical outlets may be possible. Charging is manageable; costs are manageable, and the number of these vehicles produced is very high. The number of two and three-wheelers manufactured in the latest financial year is 30 million plus. Total of fuel used by these vehicles is massive.  If totally converted to EVs, there can be a significant impact on pollution.

There are two groups in this segment. First and the main is the group of established manufacturers like Honda, Hero and Bajaj. They are already developing EVs. The second segment is the startups who are in the process of developing EVs. They have no hangups and are trying to support the government. But the established ones have the issue of scaling up. NITI Ayog is insisting that by 2025, majority two-wheelers manufactured should be EV’s. The Giants have a vast experience in manufacturing and can visualise or foresee the issues. Startups really don’t have manufacturing expertise and experience. They probably do not understand the meaning of manufacturing 2.5 million vehicles a month.

Now here is a complicated situation. Established manufacturers have to keep on producing IC Engine vehicles and ramp up EV production. Tremendous efforts and money will be needed. Startups may know the EV technology but do not have the wherewithal to manufacture one hundred thousand vehicles a month. Selling these numbers without the right experience is going to be very tough. What about funding? They are solely dependent on financing by VCs. Today I read an article about VCs trying to go away from electric vehicle manufacturers, in China, as there are too many variables. These startups will never get bank funding. Don’t forget that even Tesla is still a VC funded company! They are already facing production bottlenecks, and their sales are going down!

Will Lithium producers make a cartel like the petroleum cartel? It is a million dollar question. India does not have Lithium reserves, but China has done brilliantly. They have taken controlling shares in many mines across the globe. Till foreseeable future, it looks like the Lithium, and to some extent, Cobalt is going to be the key elements. Their control will be the key to success.

https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/india-lithium-ion-battery-market

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The cost of the battery pack was the US $1000/ kW-hr in 2010. In the year 2016, it came down $273. At this rate, the EV’s will become affordable over a period. By 2020 it is expected to be sub $200/. By 2026 the price is projected to be $100/. But till that time it is going to be a tricky question about change over. Those who can afford will buy the EV’s, but the mass production models will take some time to become affordable. In the countries, where parking of cars is an issue, it is difficult to predict what the solution will be.

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One pertinent point discussed by NITI Ayog was that if the pollution goes out of hand, then the courts will intervene. Once that happens then, the discussion will be between manufacturers and the courts. NITI Ayog suggested that some policy decisions need to be taken while interested parties are involved in the debate; it will enable both sides to come to an excellent resolution.

It is more of a chicken and egg situation. It is known that EVs are good for pollution management. On one side, nobody even knows which startups will even survive five years hence. Hence there is no point in putting your money on them. But the existing giants have their issues. They need to run their current business, which has its unique problems. They have to simultaneously scale down and scale up for old and new business. Hence they have shown their apprehension with the year 2025. How will they come out of this conundrum is anybody’s guess.

Are Electric buses the real solution for pollution control and to take people away from personal vehicles?