The first test of a self-driving car in Australia was held on Saturday without incident as Volvo XC70s travelling at up to 70kmh on an expressway near Adelaide.
The trial, backed by the South Australian government, was held in conjunction with a driverless cars conference held in the state capital this weekend.
A modified Volvos, which are even designed to detect kangaroos – the NRMA estimates around 20,000 collisions with roos annually cost around $AU75 million in insurance claims – travelled in convoy along a closed section of Adelaide’s Southern Expressway with politicians and police among the passengers.
They followed a ‘pace car’ (a normal car with a driver) to simulate traffic and demonstrate how the driverless car adapts to changing conditions such a slowing traffic.
The new series Volvo XC90 released in Australia earlier this year already has a range of technologies for drivers, from automated parking to sensors that warn if the car is straying from its lane or getting to close to the car in front.
Volvo is aiming to have at least 100 automated cars on Swedish roads by 2017 and the company believes Australia can follow suit within five years on certain thoroughfares.
Europe is also looking at introducing driverless cars by 2020.
South Australian premier Jay Weatherill said his state was taking the lead nationally in driverless car technology, believing it has the potential to both save lives and reduce carbon emissions.
“We are encouraging the development of a new technology which not only promises to improve safety and lower emissions, but also offers countless opportunities for the South Australian economy,” he said.
“This industry has the potential to revolutionise transport in Australia.
“We want to be at the forefront of this paradigm shift towards an industry which is anticipated to be worth more than $90 billion globally by 2030.”
ARRB Group, a 55-year-old Victorian road safety research agency, organised the trial along with support from Telstra, Flinders University and the Royal Automobile Association of South Australia.
ARRB Group managing director Gerard Waldron said the trials were a first for the Southern Hemisphere and automated trucks had the potential to cut running costs in the transport industry by 40%, bringing down the costs of groceries.
“It’s also vitally important we educate Australian road users on the benefits driverless technology will bring to their lifestyles, to their safety, and in relieving congestion issues on our roads,” he said.
Volvo’s senior technical leader Trent Victor said drives such as hour-long commute to work are the sorts of incidents the Swedish car company is targeting with its technology.
“You can just sit back and relax and do something else with you time and just let the car follow traffic and do what it does so you’re free to do something else,” he said.
“We giving time to the customer and the possibility to do something meaningful while you’re driving…. what would you want to do?”