Driverless future well underway in Australia

The 4th International Driverless Vehicle Summit outlined leading government automated vehicle programs and car manufacturing case studies in the US, while announcing an Australian-first driverless vehicle trial. 

When the International Driverless Vehicle Summit (IDVS) launched four years ago in Adelaide, Volvo had become the first commercial vehicle operator to launch a connected and automated vehicle (CAV) trial in Australia.

Now four years on, Transport for NSW has been trialling automated passenger shuttles at Sydney Olympic Park.

In Queensland, the Mount Cotton driving centre is expected to be handed over soon to the Royal Automotive Club of Queensland to launch an off-road connected and automated vehicle test bed.

WA is testing an electric shuttle bus on public roads and has been since 2015, to date travelling more than 22,000 kilometres in autonomous mode.

The Australian Road Research Board’s (ARRB) National Transport Research Centre at Fisherman’s Bend has also been earmarked as a new test bed for CAV. Additionally, ARRB has completed a world-first sign and line recognition project, which has drawn significant interest from US researchers.

Roads & Infrastructure attended the fourth International Driverless Vehicle Summit, hearing from overseas best practise and household names like General Motors International.

Spruiking the tagline, “forging the future”, the three-day event, held from October 27-29, offered an interactive experience for visitors. This comprised a ride in an autonomous shuttle by autonomous car companies NAYVA and the debut of the world’s first portable connected bus stop and transit hub developed by SAGE Automation.

As much has changed since IDVS made its debut, ARRB CEO Michael Caltabiano set the scene on day two.

He said the future is about ensuring CAVs are certified and operationally tested for Australian conditions, with on-road and off-road testing at the heart of it.

Speaking to a diverse audience of road managers, government and commercial road vehicle manufacturers, Mr. Caltabiano highlighted the evolving nature of transport. Clean, green, efficient, carbon neutral and mobility-enabled, he said this was the future ARRB envisioned for transport with CAV a key part.

“Connected and automated vehicles, you look at Japan, Korea, the US and Europe, you don’t look to Australia. We need to be much better at engaging,” he said.

He said that for the past century we’d been building the same infrastructure, but the world had changed.

“The new generation think of journeys completely differently. They think of journeys that are connected,” he said.

He said that ARRB had begun conversations with the Victorian Government regarding making Fisherman’s Bend a CAV test-bed.

However, in order to move towards mobility as a service, strong relationships with the private sector and government were needed.

“What does a mobility enabled community looks like and feel like? We don’t know, because we don’t have one.”

Fortunately, Mr. Caltabiano said a transition was underway with Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and NSW Infrastructure Minister Andrew Constance both highlighting their governments stand ready to invest.

Building on this momentum earlier in the day, Mr. Constance announced an Australian-first trial of a driverless shuttle bus service at Sydney Olympic Park. The trial will permit the first vehicle in the country to interact autonomously with live traffic conditions. The vehicles will communicate autonomously with live traffic signals to negotiate an intersection, connecting passengers to Olympic Park Stadium, restaurants and car parks.

“This new stage is important to help us understand how autonomous vehicles can connect to our infrastructure, like traffic lights and digital bus stops,” Mr. Constance said.

National Roads and Motorists’ Association CEO Rohan Lund said some 94 per cent of crashes were caused by human error so autonomous vehicles had potential to save thousands of lives and dramatically reduce congestion.

In an address to IDVI earlier in the day, Mr. McCormack said automated vehicles and connected infrastructure can contribute to making Australian roads safer.

“Whether it’s the safe system approach, placing emphasis on both vehicle and infrastructure design as to prevent death and serious injury, connected and automated vehicles have the potential to contribute to a safe system through providing and analysing data,” he said.


On day one, Randall Kawasaki, Executive Director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority discussed Innovate 680 – California’s first connected corridor for the future.

With a population of more than 1.1 million residents in 19 cities in the San Francisco Bay, Contra Costa County has an extensive transport network of major freeways, regional rail services and bus operations.

Innovate 680 is characterised by seven component strategies, including carpool/express lanes, high capacity transit with first/last mile connectivity and transportation demand management such as a shared mobility program.

“The second biggest issue of the Bay area [is] – congestion…we know we can’t build our way out of congestion,” Mr. Kawasaki told the audience.

Contra Costa County has been awarded a $7.5 million grant to support three autonomous vehicle demonstration projects as part of an automated driving system pilot program.

The Contra Costa Transportation Authority has also received an $8 million grant from the US Department of Transport to deliver a mobility as a service platform. A report will be produced to analyse the service’s platform, which will be verified by the University of California, Berkeley.


Evan Walker, Director of the Smart Innovation Centre Freight, Strategy and Planning at Transport for NSW also spoke of designing trends for the customer experience.

“Our job is about moving people and goods and using technology to do that,” Mr. Walker told Roads & Infrastructure.

“This is a technology sphere but it’s really for us to deliver outcomes for customers. But to do that, you can’t kind of just expect it to work straight away so we need to trial the technology, develop infrastructure and take all the steps to get to the point where it’s useful for customers.”

In 2017, a trial of the state’s first automated smart shuttle began at Sydney Olympic Park, carrying up to 12 passengers at a time. Mr. Walker said this was a great example of collaboration with local businesses and the community.

Transport for NSW has also partnered with industry, researchers, local councils and businesses in Australian-first regional trials of four automated shuttle buses in Armidale and Coffs Harbour.

Anthony Riemann, Director of Urban Mobility of General Motors International, put it best when he cited the failure of 90s camera tech giant Kodak. The company declared bankruptcy in 2012, after being arguably slow to respond to the digital revolution.

GM launched a carsharing service at the beginning of 2016, giving users the ability to reserve cars by the hour or the day for personal use.

Pointing to the growth of mobility services, he said companies can’t ignore customer demand and that GM customers are looking for more choice and less commitment when it comes to vehicle ownership. He noted that vehicle ownership would stay strong for decades, but businesses needed to adapt.

You can read the full article in the December edition of Roads & Infrastructure.

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