NSW starts driverless car trial as Uber pauses

Following Uber reporting the death of a pedestrian after being struck by one of its vehicles operating in autonomous mode in the US, the New South Wales government has begun its trial on Sydney's orbital network.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor on

The New South Wales government kicked off its driverless cars trial this week, with automated vehicles expected to cruise Sydney streets until October.

Working with motorway operator Transurban and car manufacturers to develop the automated technology, the vehicles will run on the Sydney orbital network including the Lane Cove Tunnel, The Hills M2 Motorway, Westlink M7, the M5, and the Eastern Distributor. The vehicles will also be taking to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the harbour tunnel.

The automated cars have adaptive cruise control and automatic braking and can read traffic signs and remain within their lanes.

Speaking of the trial and the possibilities driverless vehicles can bring, Roads Minister Melinda Pavey said automated vehicles will lead to a reduction in the road toll.

"We know that a majority of crashes occur due to human error -- technology is giving us the opportunity to see real safety benefits on our roads," she said in a statement.

The launch of the trial wasn't met with as much fanfare as other initiatives Transport for NSW (TfNSW) has launched, such as its current trial of a driverless shuttle bus at Sydney Olympic Park.

The launch of the initiative occured within hours of a female pedestrian dying after being struck by an Uber car operating in autonomous mode in Tempe, Arizona.

Tempe police reported the car was in autonomous mode with a human safety driver at the wheel, which is required by law, when it struck the pedestrian who walked into the street with her bike.

When asked about the fatal crash, Pavey said it was important to keep the death in perspective.

"We shouldn't be scared of the future, at the same time that accident in Phoenix is devastating, 100 other people die every day on the roads in the United States," Pavey told 2GB.

Following the incident overseas, Uber decided to suspend tests in Tempe, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Toronto.

Read more: Fatal pedestrian crash causes Uber to stop self-driving car tests(TechRepublic)

Legislation was passed last year to enable the NSW minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight to approve trials of automated vehicles. The legislation allows government to partner with industry, researchers, and universities to be a testing ground for automated vehicles, with the trial touted as bringing driverless cars a step closer to reality in Australia.

Alongside the legislation, the state launched its Smart Innovation Centre -- a hub for the "collaborative" research and development of safe and efficient emerging transport technology.

The Smart Innovation Centre is currently partnering with industry to conduct trials on behalf of the state government to determine how it can get the most from autonomous technology.

The TfNSW trial is the latest step in the state government's Future Transport 2056 strategy, aimed at looking into ways to harness "the rapid advancement of technology and innovation across the transport system to transform the customer experience, improve communities, and boost our economic performance".

Citing advances in technology and a growing mobility services market that has already altered the landscape for transport delivery, the government said the advent of ride-sharing services, the introduction of demand-responsive services, and the widespread use of technology are the early forerunners of how technology can reshape transport.

The Future Transport plan sets out a long-term framework for developing the network that delivers the government's ambitious vision for "thriving" communities and centres across NSW.

Read more: Moving from planes, trains, and automobiles to 'mobility-as-a-service': A peek into the future of transport in Sydney

In addition to its Sydney Olympic Park driverless shuttle trial with delivery partners HMI Technologies, NRMA, Telstra, and IAE, the state government revealed in May that Dubbo -- a town home to around 36,000 people 400kms outside Sydney -- would be the first city in NSW to trial on-demand buses.

Eight locations were then chosen for further on-demand bus pilots in August, allowing customers to book transport from or near their home to a local transport hub or other centres including local hospitals.

"We have on-demand movies, on-demand food, and finally, NSW will have on-demand transport," Transport Minister Andrew Constance said at the time.

"Today we drive our cars, but the reality is cars will soon drive us, and, while we are not there yet, we need to be prepared for this change and we need to stay ahead of the game."

With AAP


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