For RAC’s WA Chief Executive Officer, Terry Agnew, the question of whether driverless vehicles will come to Australian roads is settled.
It is not a matter of ‘if’ he told the media last week, but ‘when’.
“Increasing levels of automation are an inevitable part of the future,” Agnew said at the launch of a new program that will test driverless buses in Perth.
The trial, based at RAC’s driver centre, will use the NAVYA bus, a battery powered shuttle built to carry a maximum of 15 passengers, it has a top speed of 45 kms an hour, and uses smart technology.
Its features include sensors that map the environment, and determine the NAVYA’s relationship to obstacles and vehicles, a GPS-to-base system, all augmented with onboard cameras designed to ‘read’ and interpret the real-time traffic experience.
Its tech specs suggest it is ideally suited – though not limited to – deployment in hermetic environment like universities, airports, and industrial centres. These are situations where foot travel and car use is impractical. Yet the distances involved are as RAC said in its announcement “too short to drive and too far to walk”.
Designed to evaluate such essential issues as safety, efficiency and infrastructure changes that might be in order in the event of a rollout the NAVYA program is a collaboration between the RAC, the Western Australia Government and the vehicle’s French manufacturer.
Agnew said that the trial, which begins in April, would ready WA for this kind of technology with the ultimate aim of integrating autonomous vehicles into the state’s transport system.
He said that the NAVYA would be used in ‘public spaces’ by the end of the year.
The WA test anticipates an elaborate NAVYA trial based in the Swiss city of Sion to begin in the northern Spring this year.
A startup called BestMile has created a network in collaboration with French bus operator PostBus. The NAVYA will need to negotiate the streets of the city with all the conventional traffic issues and hazards.