The first successful trials of semi-automated vehicles have just been completed on Melbourne's EastLink with the Volvo S90 driving on its own in live traffic, the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB) has said.
The trial forms part of an 18-month research project that aims to enable Victorian drivers to safely commute on the tollway with their hands off the wheel by 2018.
The research project is being led by ARRB, with support from EastLink and La Trobe University, thanks to AU$578,000 in funding provided by the VicRoads Intelligent Transport System (ITS) Grants Program.
The project has been broken down into three stages, with the first to develop a "first of its kind" classification system for assessing Australian roads based on the level of automated vehicle features they support.
The ARRB said that in the second half of 2017, stage two will see the testing of a range of Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS) technologies that allow communication between vehicles and road infrastructure.
Stage three, slated for 2018, will see a small number of semi-automated vehicles tested on EastLink with driverless technology.
"By the completion of the research project in 2018, it is expected that EastLink will support vehicle manufacturers activating the technology so commuters can safely enjoy hands-free driving, pending the necessary legislative changes being made," the ARRB said in a statement.
"This will mark a significant milestone in the race to put Australia on the international map as a leader in driverless vehicle technology and a place where vehicle manufacturers can test and deploy their latest technology."
It was also recently announced that autonomous cars will begin travelling on CityLink and the Monash and Tullamarine freeways in Victoria, with the trial expected to monitor how the cars interact with real-life road conditions such as overhead lane signals, electronic speed signs, and line markings.
The trial is expected to take up to two years and will be managed by tolling company Transurban, CityLink's owner.
Similarly, Bosch kicked off an initiative in October with the Victorian government, in conjunction with the Transport Accident Commission and VicRoads, for the development of the first self-driving vehicle in Australia.
Following a AU$1.2 million investment, the vehicle under construction in Clayton, Victoria, has been designed to navigate roads with or without driver input and includes the ability to detect and avoid hazards such as pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicles.
"By removing human error from the equation, self-driving vehicles will play a critical role in reducing deaths and serious injuries on Victorian roads," Victorian Minister for Roads and Road Safety Luke Donnellan said at the time.
"This self-driving car is at the forefront of automated vehicle technology, and it's been developed right here in Melbourne by local engineers."
Building on the Bosch initiative, Queensland is also preparing for driverless and connected vehicles, with plans under way for what the state government called the largest on-road testing trial in Australia.
State Main Roads and Road Safety Minister Mark Bailey announced that Ipswich, southeast of Brisbane, would host trials over the next four years on vehicles and infrastructure that can talk to one another, as well as tests on highly automated vehicles.
The trials form part of the Cooperative and Automated Vehicle Initiative (CAVI), and will see the state government recruit around 500 Ipswich motorists to have their vehicles retrofitted with C-ITS technology.
In March, the South Australian government approved on-road trials of driverless cars on the state's roads after the state government and ARRB successfully carried out the country's first driverless car trial on Adelaide's Southern Expressway.
The November 2015 trial involved two Volvo XC90 vehicles that demonstrated automatic lane keeping, adaptive cruise control, and active queue assist.