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Connected vehicle trial expanding to Sydney

The NSW government has been trialling connected trucks and buses for three years in Wollongong, with the tests to be expanded to passenger vehicles and to the Sydney region this year.

The New South Wales Department of Transport has said it will be expanding its Cooperative Intelligent Transport Initiative (CITI) trial, which connects freight trucks and buses with infrastructure such as traffic signals and hazard alerts, to the northern Sydney region in 2017.

Under the program, 60 trucks and 11 buses have been fitted with connectivity throughout the Southern Highlands, Port Botany, Port Kembla, and Wollongong regions for the past three years.

The trial will this year also be expanded to include 55 light passenger vehicles in the Wollongong area, as well as trialling the trucks and buses in the Kiama region, the Department of Transport told the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Industry, Innovation, Science and Resources during a hearing on its inquiry into the social issues relating to land-based driverless vehicles in Australia.

So far, the program, which operates under a broadcast licence from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) on the 5.9GHz cooperative intelligent transport systems (C-ITS)-specific radio spectrum band, has collected 2 billion records for analysis on the safety, efficiency, and operation of those connected vehicles.

"It's the largest platform of this type of test facility in the Southern Hemisphere," the department told the parliamentary committee on Thursday morning.

"It allows vehicles to communicate with each other and also to infrastructure, such as traffic signals, and currently drivers receive alerts about upcoming hazards that could cause a crash.

"Already, we've collected 2 billion records for analysis and that includes both the safety operation of those vehicles and the environmental performance of those vehicles, and also the efficiency and operation of those vehicles."

Road-side transmission stations are also being used to broadcast speed limit, traffic light, and other information to connected heavy vehicles.

The department said it is now speaking with universities and other partners to analyse the collected data in order to predict and deploy safety, environmental, and traffic efficiency improvements.

Calling connected and autonomous vehicles "game-changing technology" for road safety, the department said it has been working with the Australian government through AustRoads, as well as CSIRO's Data61, on the project, saying it would be "desirable" to have a nationally consistent approach to driverless vehicles.

"The NSW government is committed to supporting technological innovation and delivering better transport services and improved customer experience as well as social and environmental benefits," the NSW department said.

"Our priorities are to enable the safe and legal deployment of connected automotive vehicles."

In the medium term, this will involve dealing with interactions between driverless vehicles and human-operated vehicles, the department said, as well as using the NSW Innovation Strategy to transition the state's workforce from "traditional jobs to future jobs".

"[We're] looking very closely right now at how we can benefit from the new technologies, making sure that we can attract the jobs that come from these new technologies, that we can adapt, our workforce can adapt," the department told the committee.

While the NSW government is working on connected vehicles, it is still relatively behind on fully autonomous vehicles.

By comparison, the South Australian government announced Australia's first driverless car trial back in July 2015, completing the trial in November that year. The trial involved two Volvo XC90 vehicles that successfully demonstrated adaptive cruise control, automatic lane keeping, and active queue assist.

The South Australian government said it will be a "key player" in the vehicle-connectivity industry, approving widespread driverless car trials in March 2016 so that companies are permitted to test autonomous vehicles on its roads by simply submitting their plans and insurance information to the government.

More recently, South Australia also kicked off a AU$2.8 million trial of driverless shuttles with Adelaide Airport in March, with the shuttles to transport passengers between the long-term car park and the airport. If these trials are successful, they will become a permanent feature at the airport in replacement of its human-operated shuttle buses, reducing both carbon emissions and road congestion, and able to operate 24/7.

Similarly, the Western Australian government also tested a driverless and fully electric shuttle bus in Perth in August 2016, with the RAC Intellibus carrying up to 11 passengers at an average speed of 25km per hour along South Perth Esplanade.

In November, the Queensland government announced that it would host trials over the next four years for intelligent vehicles in order to work towards reducing car crashes, traffic, vehicle emissions, and fuel use. Queensland will be using Bosch's "highly automated driving vehicle" -- the first self-driving vehicle in Australia developed under an initiative in October with the Victorian government -- in the trials and demonstrations, with on-road testing expected to take place in 2019.

Semi-automated vehicles were then successfully trialled in Victoria during December, with the Volvo S90 driving on its own in live traffic along Melbourne's EastLink, with the state government aiming to have Victorian drivers able to safely commute in self-driving vehicles by 2018. Autonomous cars will also be trialled on Victoria's CityLink and the Monash and Tullamarine freeways in Victoria for two years.

Meanwhile, the Australian Parliamentary Innovations Committee is exploring the possibility of providing separate highway lanes for autonomous vehicles throughout Australia.

Last year, the then-NSW Minister for Industry, Resources and Energy Anthony Roberts had said he intended on bringing autonomous cars to the state, calling driverless electric cars the "future of driving".