Office of future transport takes shape

ARRB has been working with the Federal Government’s Office of Future Transport Technology.

Since its establishment in 2018, the Federal Government’s Office of Future Transport Technology has been working to bring a cohesive and unified approach to emerging technologies, but what has been achieved since then and what does the future hold? 

In late 2018, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack announced the Office of Future Transport Technology would be established within the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities.

The new office will help prepare for the pending arrival of automated vehicles and other transport innovations. The initiative is made possible through a $9.7 million investment by the Federal Government.

With automated vehicles on the verge of becoming commercially available, the Federal Government is taking steps to manage the associated challenges and opportunities within the evolving and future transport landscape.

In an address to a Roads Australia event in late 2018, Mr McCormack had signalled that governments and industry needed to collaborate effectively to develop the right policy, regulation and infrastructure to adapt to future technology.

“The Australian future transport and mobility industry is expected generate more than $16 billion in revenue by 2025,” Mr McCormack said.

“While representing an emerging business opportunity for the national economy, these technologies also have great potential to reduce the $27 billion cost of road crashes in Australia each year.”

Mr McCormack highlighted that he expected the Office to collaborate across governments to ensure automated vehicles are safe, consider future infrastructure needs and that cyber-security safeguards are in place. He said this would ensure businesses can take advantage of new commercial opportunities.

The Australian Road Research Board (ARRB) has been providing its expertise and support to the Office since its inception. In an interview with Roads & Infrastructure in early April, Mr. McCormack reiterated he was working closely with ARRB through the office.

The work of the office is consistent with ARRB’s main streams: intelligent roads; the future of asset management; disruptive journeys, platforms and services; smart journeys, the human factors of transport and sustainability.

More recently, ARRB is continuing to monitor the impact of COVID-19 and recently released the latest transport research from Victoria. As expected, there’s already been major reductions in congestion and foot-traffic, with ARRB believing this trend will likely be similar in most capital cities.

ARRB Chief Executive Officer Michael Caltabiano says the COVID-19 shutdown offers a critical opportunity for Victoria to understand and deal with its transport issues before life eventually returns to normal.

“We need to take this opportunity to reimagine now what a post-COVID-19 back-to-work should look like. Do we take the opportunity to change the way in which are freeways are used?”

To that end, the research and testing underpinning the acceleration of future transport technologies is not going anywhere. It remains in line with the Transport and Infrastructure Council’s National Land Transport Technology Action Plan 2020-2023. The council brings together Commonwealth, state, territory and New Zealand ministers responsible for transport and infrastructure issues, as well as the Australian Local Government Association.

In acknowledging that transport technology is changing rapidly, the 2020-2023 action plan highlights how new and innovative technologies could bring about improved productivity; more efficient use of existing infrastructure; reductions in congestion and avoid fatalities and injuries.

Preparing for connected vehicles, roadside infrastructure and supporting devices requires significant planning and an agreed approach to policy, regulatory and investment-decision-making.

The action plan therefore outlines a number of priorities. These include exploring technology in the freight sector, low and zero emissions vehicles, mobility as a service and the role connected and automated vehicles (CAV) will play in influencing future infrastructure and land use planning.

The supporting areas of future focus cover safety, security and privacy; digital and physical infrastructure; data; standards and interoperability; and disruption and change.

Safety, security and privacy

Since 2016, a regulatory framework has been established for testing automated vehicles and Australian jurisdictions have committed to removing barriers. This means ensuring manufacturers can safely test automated vehicles in real-world conditions. Likewise, stakeholders have investigated the costs, benefits and deployment models for automatic crash notifications.

Ongoing work comprises the development of national operational guidelines to support on-road use of automated vehicles as well as the development of a national deployment plan for security management of CAVs. Austroads continues to guide the planning of national operational guidelines, aided by its 2017 assessment of key road operator actions to support automated vehicles.

Moreover, the development of a national deployment plan for security management of connected and automated vehicles also continues. Federal, state and territory governments are piloting systems for managing CAVs and connected infrastructure, with a view that higher levels of automation may significantly reduce the road toll by as much as 90 per cent.

Over the next three years, the National Transport Commission will work with the states and territories to develop a regulatory system that facilitates the safe deployment and operation of automated vehicles in Australia. This includes implementing regulatory arrangements like Australian Design Rules so automated vehicles are safe at the point of first supply in Australia. Likewise, reviewing the approach to in-service safety for automated vehicles, including consideration of institutional arrangements and road traffic and driving laws is on track for mid-2020.

Dickson Leow,  Chief Technology Leader, looks after Future Transport Systems at ARRB as part of its six main streams.

He says that when it comes to issues like cyber-security, a system is only as secure as the weakest link.

“For example in a traffic intersection everything is localised but there is that transmission sent back to the traffic management system in the back-office,” he says.

“You can have the most robust cyber-security redundant file or IP addresses, but if someone has managed to get in from the backdoor because they have access to a localised unit then all your security measures can be compromised.”

ARRB is part of an ISO Committee drafting additional standards for CAV. Some of the issues that Mr. Leow says could be looked at for example, if a sensor is broken and the end user can’t get a reading from it.

“When you talk about automated vehicles you’ve got sensors, redundancies and key redundancies, but when the redundancies fail – what happens?” Mr. Leow explains.

In ensuring the systems are safe, he says its important to follow a minimal risk manoeuvre. Where a vehicle has possible issues, it will be critical to stop the vehicle at the side of the road and then dial in for assistance.

“If the vehicle is already in place – , depending on how severe the situation is, it can call for a tow truck or emergency vehicle.”

Enabling interoperability of equipment and services in a rapidly changing technological environment is no easy task.

Digital and physical infrastructure

It’s no secret that new technologies will need new types of infrastructure which may influence the existing infrastructure that form the basis of our contemporary transport system. Governments are therefore investigating what digital and physical infrastructure will be needed in the future and how to provide it effectively.

Austroads in 2018 led an international scanning exercise on the costs and benefits of traffic management technologies, helping governments understand which technologies were mature. Australian governments developed CAV test-beds and funded the development of satellite-based augmentation system.

To that end, Intelligent Transport System trials continue, including Transport for NSW’s CAV trials in Armidale and Coffs Harbour, Victoria’s Towards Zero CAV Trials and ACT’s two-year CANDrive automated vehicle trials.

“ARRB has been quite fortunate that we’ve been engaged with road authorities at varying levels of jurisdictions at the different states to look at aspects of the different road infrastructure with all these new vehicles,” Mr. Leow says.

Mr. Leow says ARRB has also undertaken a study within the freight sector looking at CAV integration, mobility as a service and how CAV will influence the future of infrastructure.

He says that as autonomous vehicles get smarter with automated features like adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency brakes, lane keep assist and active steering, these features will need to meet Australian Design Rules.

“We’re doing a study on what are the impacts or benefits if we were to regulate some of these features,” Mr. Leow says.

“From preliminary studies there are a few key features that could be beneficial, but having said that, there are other regulatory requirements from Europe that will need to be applied to an Australian context.”

“We should learn and harmonise as much as we can to progress the advancement of technology as best and as fast we can.”

Data

According to the action plan, transport systems are generating more data than ever before that can be used to improve services and streamline decision-making. Ongoing work comprises looking at telematics and other intelligent transport systems in planning such as ports and improving the availability of open data in transport.

Over the next three years, CAV data will be used to support network efficiency and safety, supported by trials that guide government decision-making.

Better data is not just beneficial for CAVs, but more broadly streamlines decisions.

An investigation by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) found a variety of different datasets were being collected without a central or consistent source.

“BITRE has done a great job in trying to get as much of the information and cleaning it up so there’s consistency, including our accident report,” he says.

He says that better data governance, including hosting and disseminating that information, is important to informing improved information sharing between state road authorities.   

Mr. Leow says that state agencies are currently looking at crash data to inform better decision-making.

“We will investigate the crash data that we received from different jurisdictions that is inconsistent,” he says.

“Some collect some information, some don’t so there’s an element of policing and recording of the event and that makes it difficult. If you don’t have a baseline, you cannot build on it and I think that is the first step to get consistency.”

Mr. Leow says that some of the key pain points involve basic information not being collected, with make and models often collected missing information.

While there are multiple factors that will shape a better understanding such as the speed of the driver and weather, he says that without fundamental information such as the make and model, it’s difficult to remedy the situation.

“This is part of what we call the safe system approach. As part of our safety team we’ve been looking at the four factors: education, people, vehicles, road designs,” he says.

ARRB is also looking at blameless investigations. In other countries, crashes are investigated using a “blameless” model, to frankly (and without bias) evaluate what role the road, the vehicle and the user played in the crash.

This means that when a crash occurs, it’s about understanding if all the necessary steps have been taken, whether it be better design of the vehicle or its age.

Mr. Leow adds that the Office of Future Transport Technology is working towards real-time data on our roads which could support CAVs in the future. ARRB is taking some of the lessons where automation has been tried and tested, including in the banking and aviation sectors.

“Before vehicles are automated if vehicles can actually understand the messaging and get it early enough send it to the driver, the driver can actually pre-empt any issues whether it be 500 metres, 100 metres or a kilometre away,” he says.

Standards and interoperability 

Enabling interoperability of equipment and services in a rapidly changing technological environment is no easy task. Therefore, the development of a Cooperative Intelligent Transport System infrastructure roadmap is ongoing, in addition to publishing a statement of intent on supporting standards and deployment models.

Over the next three years, it will be important to evaluate deployment models and associated costs and benefits of Cooperative Intelligent Transport System vehicle technologies.

Likewise, the changing environment on our roads has implications for the freight sector. Identifying and facilitating emerging technologies that improve freight outcomes can increase the efficiency of the network, improve supply chain visibility and decrease risk to other transport users.

“It’s about how we integrate the holistic perspective not just automated vehicles, not just heavy vehicles but how does it interact with vulnerable road users, motorcyclists and cyclists,” he says.

While a number of issues will continue to be worked through, Mr. Leow jokes that arguably one of the greatest challenges is federation, and a key reason why the Office was set-up. Importantly, he says work continues to connect all dots through to 2023.

“As with all technological advancements we take a multifaceted approach. We don’t just look at the problem, but we look at how the problem is solved and what are the other elements that contribute to future problems by solving that problem,” he says.

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