Australian semi-autonomous vehicle trials turn focus to the tarmac
Carmakers aren't the only ones involved in preparing for the onset of self-driving technology. The groups responsible for maintaining roads – local governments and private road operators – all have a part to play in bringing autonomy to the masses as well. A trial in Melbourne, Australia, is out to better understand how things like road signs, lane markings and road works impact current semi-autonomous driver assists.
The trial in Melbourne is a testament to the number of groups involved in making self-driving a reality. Toll road operator Transurban is involved, along with the State Government, VicRoads and the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria. Meanwhile, cars will come from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Tesla.
Initially, the Melbourne tests will focus on how current Level 2 semi-autonomous systems react when presented with tunnels, road works, congestion, changeable electronic speed signs and lane markings. There will be a test driver with a hand on the steering wheel when the cars are operating in regular traffic, but the cars will also be run hands-free when on closed roads during the test period.
"It's evident all over the world, as this technology moves in different directions and different ways, that... on-road trialing is really important," says John Merritt, CEO of VicRoads. "There's no substitute for just testing this stuff on the road. A starting point, from a VicRoads point of view, [is that] we really want this technology – we see it as being the beginning of the end for road trauma."
"We want to see this technology come online," he continued. "To help it, it needs access to the road system... there is just no substitute for kilometers."
Along with more information about how to best prepare the roads for autonomous vehicles, the trials are aiming to find out how the public reacts to self-driving technology. Questions surrounding how autonomous cars interact with regular road users will be discussed, along with potential solutions like autonomous-only lanes.
"We are building new freeways, but we need to set the standard so that in the future, we have the capacity to see driverless vehicles – which the industry expects within five to 10 years – on our roads," says Luke Donnellan, Minister for Roads and Road Safety in Victoria.