Driverless cars to hit South Australia in November

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news The South Australian Government has announced that driverless cars will be driven on Australian roads for the first time in November this year, with the state partnering with a number of motor vehicle manufacturers and technology companies such as Telstra to test out the next generation in transport technology in early trials.

The initiative is being led by the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB), which said in a statement that the aim was to apply international research to the local road environment and seek to understand what would be required to make the new generation of driverless technology appropriate for Australian roads.

ARRB Group Managing Director Gerard Waldron said automated vehicles were far from science fiction, but rather a short-term reality that Australia needed to be prepared for. “The advent of driverless cars is an opportunity to foster technological innovation and revive Australia’s manufacturing industry – the South Australian Government has been quick to recognise this,” he said.

“ARRB will establish how driverless technology needs to be manufactured and introduced for uniquely Australian driving behaviour, our climate and road conditions, including what this means for Australia’s national road infrastructure, markings, surfaces and roadside signage,” he added.

The trials in South Australia this November will be the first of many trials nationally, with discussions underway in a number of jurisdictions. ARRB Group is calling for additional states, territories and partners to support the initiative.

“Driverless cars have a range of benefits that could significantly improve road safety and the quality of life of everyday Australians, add to the nation’s economic competitiveness and help relieve rapidly growing congestion that is crippling our infrastructure and creating productivity deficits in our capital cities. We’re seeking technology and automotive industry partners to assist us in Australia’s driverless vehicle innovation,” added Waldron.

However, one company which has not yet announced any support for the trials is one of the global leaders in the field — Google — which has been operating a unique set of driverless cars mainly in California for several years. The company currently plans a commercial launch of its cars in about 2020.

However, the company still has a connection to the South Australian effort — SA Transport Minister Stephen Mullighan and his department chief Michael Deegan visited Google’s Mountain View campus in the US in January and checked out the search giant’s offerings.

The visit obviously had an impact — several weeks later the SA State Government flagged its intentions to pursue legislative change to allow driverless cars on the road.

In today’s statement, South Australian Premier, Hon Jay Weatherill, said: “This trial presents a fantastic opportunity for South Australia to take a lead nationally and internationally in the development of this new technology and open up new opportunities for our economy.”

Kevin McCann, Managing Director of Volvo Car Australia said: “As a leader in the development of autonomous drive technologies, Volvo’s aim is to make this technology realistically available for customers in production cars in the near future.

“At Volvo we believe autonomous drive will lead to significant consumer and societal benefits, including improved traffic safety, improved fuel economy, reduced congestion, and the opportunity for improved infrastructure planning. We are delighted to be involved with the ARRB demonstration event in South Australia, where we believe Volvo Car Australia can make a positive and significant contribution.”

Vish Nandlall, Telstra’s Chief Technology Officer said: “We look forward to working with ARRB and seeing how we can use our technology and networks expertise to help make autonomous vehicle use in Australia a reality.”

Penny Gale, RAA General Manager Public Affairs said that by 2020 all cars that come off the production line will have some ability to drive themselves, and we need to prepare.

“This type of technology has the potential to be a real win for road safety and mobility. Removing the need for a driver will open up a whole new transport opportunity for many of our members, particularly people with disabilities and the elderly. While removing the reliance on human behaviour will undoubtedly save lives.

“This trial will help us gauge the opportunities and issues road users might face, and help us better prepare our members for future of transport that is rapidly approaching.”

opinion/analysis
In my opinion, we’re unlikely to see full driverless cars on the roads in Australia for some time. Although Google has proven pretty comprehensively that the technology works and can actually deliver a safer driving experience than when actual people are driving their own cars, there are many cultural factors to get through before Australians will be comfortable with driverless cars on the road.

Initially, I predict that we’ll see cars capable of handling themselves on freeways and other fairly static scenarios. We’re already seeing companies like Tesla integrate self-driving capacity for these use cases. When people get comfortable with that, we’ll eventually see full driverless cars making their way onto the roads. But I wouldn’t expect it anytime soon.

Image credit: Volvo

13 COMMENTS

  1. Is there data to show this?

    “can actually deliver a safer driving experience than when actual people are driving their own cars”

    Most drivers don’t have eleven (oops 12, it’s had another since I last looked) accidents in 6 years. I don’t care that only one was technically the cars fault, most people predict dangerous situations, bad drivers, pretty well and avoid the accidents.

    • I’ve had a search around myself. That 12 accidents is for 17 cars with a total of 1.7m miles. OK, so about the same as me over the 30 odd years since I started driving. Four minor accidents over about 0.8m km. That said there are drivers I know who rather than being on par would be way worse than an the Google car. I wish that’s what they were driving when I went to shop in Springvale last Sunday.

    • “most people predict dangerous situations, bad drivers, pretty well and avoid the accidents.” except for those 12 people that hit the google cars hey? We’ll ignore them.

      Googles stats….. 12 accidents after travelling 2.9 MILLION KMs and none have been thier fault. I know who I would rather trust here.

  2. I just liked the report of road rage when the Google car stopped the Telsa car from changing lanes

  3. What I think we are likely to see really take off first is driverless trucks. As many trucks just go back and forth over much the same route shipping companies can ensure that trucks are capable of navigating the routes they need to be.

    There is also a massive cost incentive for shipping companies to get it working. As, as soon as it is legal to they can forgo having anyone in the truck and suddenly you don’t need to worry about stopping shipments every so often for the drive to have a rest, as well as not having to worry about the wages of the driver.

    Not so great for the many people employed in the Australian road fright industry (sans management/logistics people) but that’s going to have to be something the this country deals with more and more as automation becomes increasingly capable.

    And Hopefully we do deal with it rather than just put our fingers in our collective ears and hope for the best. History seems to suggest the latter is the more likely, alas.

  4. Telstra has a driveless car!? Or was this a ‘auto correct’ typo and they meant Tesla?

  5. Check the info about these cars VERY carefully before buying. One owner has already had his car “hacked” and it ran off the road! (seen in a video) Car company scrambling to fix the problem.

    • Totally confused there Bonnie. The car that was hacked was not a self driving car. It was a normal your-drive-it-yourself Jeep…

  6. Agreed. It is going to happen eventually.

    But it will likely be a generational thing, both as cars leave the roads, and as the “You’ll take my steering wheel from my cold dead hands” folk leave the roads.

    Good point about automated trucks. You’ll probably find private industries like mining going down the path first, using automated vehicles on set paths to move materials from A to B. It will take longer to get to highways due to safety issues, resistance from unions etc.

  7. > Good point about automated trucks. You’ll probably find private industries like mining going down the path first, using automated vehicles on set paths to move materials from A to B. It will take longer to get to highways due to safety issues, resistance from unions etc.

    Its ethical things for mining companies Do you automate trucks, and risk increasing unemployment in small employment town. Do you invest in human and win over the community?

  8. The way some people drive round here, I would suggest SA has had driverless cars for decades.

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