Sydney begins driverless car trials in August 2017

Andrew Munro 4 August 2017 NEWS

shutterstock sydney road cars 738x410

It's specifically designed to join other cars on the main roads.

The NSW Government has given the green light to driverless car trials in Sydney's Olympic Park, set to begin this month. In doing so, it's also paved the way for a wider range of autonomous vehicle tests around Australia.

The vehicles on trial in Sydney might be best described as shuttle buggies. Capable of reaching speeds of up to 50 kilometres per hour, and theoretically able to navigate their way along public roads, they'll be started off restricted to 10 kilometres per hour, and on pre-programmed closed road tracks. The tester and systems creator, HMI Technologies, has been running similar trials at Christchurch Airport since the start of 2017.

The Sydney trials, however, are specifically intended to help put autonomous vehicles on the roads next to human drivers and examine some of the challenges that might be involved. Once the initial closed track phase is finished, the shuttles will be moving to the main roads of Olympic Park's business area, where they'll be used as a shuttle service between the offices and car parks. Eventually, it seems likely that they'll also serve as shuttles between Olympic Park accommodation and events.

"We want to use the trial to help develop the systems that will enable automated vehicles to be connected to our infrastructure, like traffic lights and to our customers through their devices and applications," said Roads Minister Melinda Pavey.

The shuttles will come to a stop if something moves in front of them, and also constantly scan their surroundings for other hazards. David Verma, autonomous vehicles director at HMI, said the shuttles can follow their predetermined path to within a "pretty extraordinary" 20mm.

HMI chief technology officer, Ahmed Hikmet, speaking at the Christchurch trials, also previously said the the shuttle there could identify the vehicle's surroundings to within "a fraction of a millimeter." Last year the majority of Australians simply didn't trust driverless cars, but opinions are likely changing.

NRMA director Kyle Loads sees the advent of driverless car technology as a way of reducing the human cost of road travel.

"There'll literally be thousands of thousands of lives saved as a result of in the future people utilising autonomous vehicles" he said. With over 1,000 motorists dying on the roads per year in Australia, and an estimated 94% of crashes being the result of human error, the public rollout of autonomous vehicles is likely to start saving lives from day one.

The commencement of Australian tests is a significant step, because this trial is specifically intended to help get autonomous cars from the testing circuits to public roads, and because it opens up the possibility of other types of tests around the country.

While other nations are outlawing autonomous vehicles entirely, Australia seems to be going full speed ahead. Albeit only at 10 kilometres per hour to start with.

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