Driverless bus trial in South Perth attracted more than 2,000 participants

More than 6,000 people registered their interest to participate in the RAC Intellibus trial, with over 2,000 having participated to date.
Written by Tas Bindi, Contributor
Image: RAC

More than 2,000 people have participated in Australia's first driverless electric bus trial in South Perth.

The Royal Automobile Club (RAC) of Western Australia kicked off the trials in August last year with support from the state government and the City of South Perth.

The vehicle, known as the RAC Intellibus, has been transporting passengers along the South Perth Esplanade between the Old Mill and Sir James Michael Park, a distance of about three kilometres.

The vehicle is able to carry up to 11 passengers and operates at an average speed of 25 kilometres per hour. It uses light detection and ranging, stereovision cameras, GPS, odometry, and autonomous emergency braking to detect and avoid obstacles.

To date, the RAC Intellibus has completed 357 trips and travelled 1,050 kilometres, according to Anne Still, general manager of public policy at RAC.

According to the RAC, 97 percent of the trial participants agree that driverless buses could be used as a service in Western Australia in the future. Aged care facilities and hospitals were among the top suggested locations for driverless buses.

More than 6,000 people have registered their interest to participate in the trial, and registrations are still being accepted, Still said.

"The trial will continue at South Perth to allow more people to use, experience, and share their views on the technology so we can continue to explore the future impact it will have on WA," she said.

In its pre-Budget submission [PDF] at the start of the year, the RAC called for a AU$300 million investment in intelligent transport systems in the state, including the implementation of smart transport initiatives and more public trials of autonomous vehicles.

"We are learning so much from the RAC Intellibus trial, because it's the first time this technology has been tested on this scale in a real-world local environment," Still said.

"Importing the bus from France was a challenge in itself. All vehicles being imported must comply with the Australian Design Rules, for example ensuring it has a steering wheel on the right-hand side rather than the left.

"The Intellibus has no steering wheel at all, or a driver's seat, brake pads, pedals, or an accelerator. We were bringing in something entirely new."

In a study [PDF] published in 2016, the RAC said risks accompany the benefits of autonomous vehicle (AV) technology.

"Research suggests AVs will deliver many benefits, including improved mobility and independence for many, reduced traffic congestion, and reduced crash risk and severity by removing human error, for instance," the RAC stated in the study.

"Increasing automation does, however, also raise a number of considerations which will need to be explored, including potential issues such as systems failures, hacking, liability in the event of a crash, etc."

While the technology is still in its early stages, a little under half of Western Australians feel positive towards it, with 28 percent being extremely so, the study found.

Another 2016 study by the Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative (ADVI) found that seven in 10 Australians trust autonomous vehicles to take over when they feel tired, bored, or physically and mentally incapable of driving manually. Almost half, or 47 percent, of Australians said self-driving vehicles would be safer than human drivers.

On Monday, the South Australian government, in partnership with Adelaide Airport, kicked off a AU$2.8 million trial of driverless shuttles, similar to the RAC Intellibus, to transport passengers to and from the airport's terminal and the long-term carpark.

Should the trials prove successful, the driverless shuttles will be become a permanent part of the airport's operations, with Adelaide Airport managing director Mark Young explaining that a small fleet of autonomous electric vehicles would replace the airport's current diesel-powered shuttle buses.

Victorian tolling company Transburban also began testing autonomous vehicles on state roads this month to understand how the cars interact with real-life road conditions such as overhead lane signals, electronic speed signs, and line markings.

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