The New South Wales government has announced the establishment of a AU$10 million fund to progress trials of driverless vehicles.
The initiative, part of the state's 2018-19 Budget to be handed down on Tuesday, is expected to allow governments, universities, the private sector, and startups to work together to develop and test driverless technologies throughout the state.
"The future belongs to those who hear it coming, and this investment looks to harness the power of technology to improve lives across the state," Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said in a statement on Monday.
Transport Minister Andrew Constance said the technology will "change the playing field" and provide new opportunities for personalised transport services.
"The technology is here and we are going to make sure we are ready to embrace it," he said.
Transport for NSW will administer the fund, which will have AU$2.5 million each year over four years.
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.
The first trial under the legislation -- a shuttle bus -- kicked off at Sydney Olympic Park in March.
Working with motorway operator Transurban and car manufacturers to develop the automated technology, the shuttles 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 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".
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," 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."
The National Transport Commission (NTC) last month announced the drafting of a new national law that will enable the use of autonomous vehicles on Australian roads.
NTC chief executive Paul Retter said the legislation, to be in place by 2020, is expected to help automated vehicle manufacturers, as well as the public, understand the legal framework they are operating in, and accelerate the introduction of autonomous vehicles in Australia.
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