While debate rages over a pedestrian’s death involving a self-driving Uber in the US, the New South Wales government has launched an automated driving trial on the state’s motorways in a collaboration with toll road operator Transurban and several luxury car manufacturers pushing hard into self-driving tech.
The trial began yesterday and will run until October, investigating the effectiveness of driver assist technology in BMW, Lexus, Hyundai, Mercedes, Audi, Tesla and Volvo cars.
Most of those brands offer technology such as lane keeping, adaptive cruise control and lane change assist as standard in the push towards level 5 fully-autonomous driving. Carmakers such as Mercedes, Volvo and Toyota have claimed their cars could operate autonomously within five years.
The NSW experiment comes nearly three years after Volvo trialled its autonomous highway technology on South Australian highways.
The Sydney on-road trial includes the Lane Cove Tunnel, Hills M2 Motorway, Westlink M7, M5, Eastern Distributor, the Harbour Bridge and tunnel.
The cars will operate under varying conditions and times, with the data collected published by the end of the year. A purpose-built app has been developed to track, record and measure the interaction between the vehicles and road infrastructure.
The NSW investigation comes as Perth prepares to become one of just three cities globally taking part in a trial of on-demand driverless cars. That proposal involves the Western Australian government, French tech startup Navya Technologies, which is building “robo-taxis”, and Royal Automobile Club (RAC).
Paris and a yet-to-be-decided US city will also take part in the program.
The $400,000 six-seat vans arrive in Perth next month. They’ll travel at 20-50km/h, with a top speed of 90km/h. They’ll be tested on the private streets between now and the start of the trial in August. People will be able to hail the cars via a smart-phone app.
The NSW government is currently trialling an autonomous shuttle around Sydney Olympic Park, and is also looking at self-driving vehicle trials in regional areas.
Transport and Infrastructure Minister Andrew Constance said the Sydney trial will “build trust and reliability for the driverless vehicles”.
“This research will show us where we may need to make changes in how we maintain and improve our current road infrastructure, as well as how we design, build and manage smart infrastructure in the future,” he said.
Despite the US death, NSW Roads Minister Melinda Pavey said the focus was on automated technology reducing the road toll.
“Last year we lost 392 people on our roads,” she said.
“We know that a majority of crashes occur due to human error, technology is giving us the opportunity to see real safety benefits on our roads.”
Pavey said the automated tech will also help manage congestion and improve efficiencies on the road network.