Melbourne will have hands-free cars on motorways by 2018

Vehicles drive on the Eastlink tolled freeway as it officially opens to the public on June 29, 2008 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Melbourne could have hands-free cars zipping along its motorways in just over a year’s time.

The Victorian state government this week announced that first trials of “semi-automated” vehicles have finished on the EastLink tollway. The test, using the latest Volvo S90s, was the first part of an 18-month program led by Australian Road Research Board and also featuring La Trobe University that aims to get hands-free cars using the EastLink by 2018.

“We’re working with Australia’s top road researchers and road operators to ensure we’re at the forefront of this technology to reduce congestion and increase road safety,” said Victoria’s state minister for roads Luke Donnellan.

“This trial will pave the way for EastLink to support vehicle manufacturers activating the technology so commuters can enjoy all the benefits of safe hands-free driving.”

The project will evaluate “semi-autonomous” vehicles with features like lane-keeping, auto-braking and adaptive cruise control. Testing would be conducted in real traffic on the EastLink to observe interaction with real road infrastructure such as road signs and lane markers.

Volvo S90. (Source: Volvo)

Accompanying legislative changes to allow autonomous vehicles on Victorian roads are in progress.

The ConnectEast project, which has received $578,000 funding from the VicRoads Intelligent Transport System Grants Program, follows the start of public consultation on the Future Directions Paper, which will direct the state’s stance on automated vehicles.

An ARRB spokesperson said that the project is “a significant milestone” for Australia in the global driverless vehicle race and would frame the country as one where autonomous vehicle manufacturers can easily test and deploy their technology.

The Victorian announcement comes on the back of Californian authorities this week de-registering assisted-driving Uber vehicles after a debate on whether the company should have sought special testing permission first.

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