Transurban to begin driverless vehicle trial on Melbourne toll roads

The 18-month trial will assess the vehicles' level of autonomy, how the roadside interacts with the vehicle, and levels of 'platooning'.
Written by Tas Bindi, Contributor

Another set of driverless vehicles trials are set to begin later this month, this time on Transurban's Melbourne network.

The trials, to take place over 18 months, will monitor how the vehicles interact with real-life road conditions such as overhead lane signals, electronic speed signs, and line markings. The vehicles will be tested in semi-autonomous mode during peak and non-peak periods, with drivers capable of taking the steering wheel if needed to prevent accidents.

The trials are aimed at assessing the vehicles' level of autonomy, how the roadside interacts with the vehicle and its position, and levels of "platooning" where the vehicles travel within a few centimetres of each other behind a lead vehicle.

Transurban CEO Scott Charlton said the vehicles are "fairly good" at reading static signs but have trouble with electronic LED signs. Charlton also said the vehicles experience some difficulty in tunnels, where no horizon is visible.

The toll road operator, which operates Melbourne's CityLink and roads in Sydney and Brisbane, will also trial driverless vehicles on its roads around Washington in the US.

This is not Transurban's first driverless vehicle trial; in December, the toll road operator said it would launch a two-year trial of autonomous vehicles on CityLink and the Monash and Tullamarine freeways in Victoria starting in March, though no progress updates have been provided as yet.

Last week, the NSW government announced the two-year trial of a driverless shuttle bus at Sydney Olympic Park, as part of its vision for "a technology-enabled transport future".

Driverless bus trials also commenced in other states; the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) of Western Australia kicked off Australia's first driverless electric bus trial in August last year with support from the state government and the City of South Perth.

The vehicle, known as the RAC Intellibus, 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.

The South Australian government, in partnership with Adelaide Airport, also launched a AU$2.8 million trial of driverless shuttle buses in March, 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 state government said the driverless shuttles will become a permanent part of the airport's operations, replacing the airport's current diesel-powered shuttle buses.

Another driverless bus trial transporting passengers around popular tourist spots in Darwin has entered its second phase, although with a driver still on board for safety. According to the ABC, more than 3,500 passengers had ridden the bus since the trial began in January.

With AAP

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