No driver required

South Australia leads the way with fi rst Oz trial of autonomous cars

BARRY PARK

ADELAIDE will become the nation’s development Mecca for self-driving cars this year, but the architect of Australia’s first autonomous trials says more could be done to allow driver-assist technologies.

Speaking exclusively to Wheels just a day after announcing that South Australia would trial selfdriving vehicles on its roads from early November, state transport and infrastructure minister Stephen Mullighan said this nation’s archaic laws were already blocking new technologies from coming here.

“A car which can detect a sign on the side of the road, and that that’s the speed limit, and it can govern itself accordingly, that’s obviously a good thing,” Mullighan says. “This is the sort of thing we need to get cracking with.

“Not having those technologies offered to the Australian market, it’s a shame for convenience’s sake. It’s costing us, socially and economically, what is likely to be very significant amounts going forward as we see the benefits of these autonomous capabilities come into markets.”

The first task is for the state to rewrite its 50-year-old road rules, updating laws written when the FB Holden was new, removing the need for the driver to be in control of the vehicle at all times.

Mullighan says Australia will also need to change design rules that act like a handbrake on emerging driver assist technologies.

November’s trials, using a self-driving Volvo XC90, will help SA identify what infrastructure modifications are needed to speed signs and road markings to support autonomous cars.

The involvement in the trials of Australian technology developers – including Adelaidebased Cohda Wireless, which has shaped a system allowing the next Lincoln Continental to reach out electronically to other vehicles as well as infrastructure such as traffic lights – could also help spawn a new industry based on building ‘smart’ roads.

Mullighan admits the trials will do little to change the fortunes of tens of thousands of automotive workers in SA, but says the state has much to gain from the selfdriving shift.

As well as the road safety benefits from having fewer crashes related to human error, Mullighan says smart roads such as Adelaide’s newly developed Southern Expressway, which will host the trials, will become even more efficient at moving traffic, meaning the state will need to spend less on improving or building new road infrastructure to cope with congestion.

“The research varies on what the potential congestion benefits are to our road network, but some estimates are as high as being able to accommodate up to four or five times the number of vehicles on our roads with the current road network capacity, which for people with the responsibility of funding and maintaining our roads … poses a tremendous benefit.”

The next step, he says, will be convincing other Australian states to change their rules so that a self-driving South Australian car doesn’t suddenly become illegal when it crosses the border. o d ople ng y

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