The driverless future

RACV RoyalAuto Magazine

This page contains archived content

To visit the new RoyalAuto website you can use the link below. 

Illustration of a driverless car in action

Imagine a future without cars as we know them today. Where most transport is driverless and you don’t own a vehicle but share it Uber-style.

A future where there is a zero road toll and a jump in productivity because people don’t have to do all those boring bits getting themselves, or things, from A to B.

According to Peter Sweatman, Australian-born principal of US transport technology advisory group CAVita, it’s not that far away – about 10 years-plus, he says.

Connected vehicle technology

And it’s coming through huge advances in connected vehicle technology (where vehicles talk to each other), vehicle automation (where machines do the work) and the embrace of shared-use services.

“There’s no question, very big changes in transportation are on the way,” he says.

“I think the future will see a predominance of driverless machines that don’t crash and have a very different design that’s tailored to purpose – that are much lighter, much more efficient, and probably electrified; and where recharging is automated in some way and may occur while the vehicle is moving.”

You probably won’t own one of these machines either, but will call for it as part of a mobility service.

Dr Sweatman is a global expert in automated and connected vehicle technology and is in Melbourne next month to speak at the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) World Congress on automated and connected vehicle technology (see below).

Technology developments

He says Australia is switched on to the technology developments occurring in transportation globally and that the state and federal governments are onboard and active in this space.

Many, though, may not be aware this steep change in transportation is so imminent.

For example, on the connected vehicle side, Dr Sweatman says the US Federal Government is soon to bring out a vehicle safety rule that requires vehicle connectivity at a defined radio standard for all vehicle models after a certain year – likely to be 2020 or shortly after.

Why is this important? Well, once you have that, there’s a multitude of vehicle safety applications that can be cheaply and reliably deployed, Dr Sweatman says, and you are also going to see deployment of corresponding radios in transport infrastructure that can interact with these vehicles.

Vehicles get the message

“So it might be something to do with getting a message about a vehicle about to cut through a red light at an intersection, things like that. Or it might be that if there is a vehicle up ahead in the traffic stream that’s just slammed the brakes on, and you can’t see the brake lights of that vehicle, your vehicle will still get the message straight away that the brakes are on ahead.”

On the automation side, there is a lot of activity too. “General Motors is bringing out a product called ‘super cruise’, and that basically drives the vehicle on the freeway – so hands off the wheel, feet off the pedals, eyes off the road,” Dr Sweatman says. “But you’ve still got to drive the vehicle onto the freeway and off the freeway.”

Cars take over

Other manufacturers are close to introducing technology to take away other bits of driving humans don’t like doing. “That might be something like being stuck in a traffic jam and just inching forward every now and then – the vehicle is going to take over and the driver doesn’t need to wear themselves out and get stressed over those conditions.”

Ultimately, Dr Sweatman says, it’s about safety and efficiency. “I think we will get to a point where we have an Uber style service, an on-demand mobility service, that isn’t driven by Uber drivers but these are automated machines – it might be 10 years in the future but we are in a position to have that.”

About the ITS World Congress in Melbourne

The Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) World Congress is at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, 10-14 October, and the theme, ITS – Enhancing Liveable Cities and Communities, fits nicely with Melbourne’s reputation as the world’s most liveable city. Around 7000 Australian and international delegates are expected to attend, together with some 300 exhibitions, numerous technical tours, demonstrations and networking events.

Brian Negus, RACV’s general manager Public Policy, is chair of the ITS World Congress Board, which is hosting the event, and president of ITS Australia.

Adam Game, chief executive of RACV-owned Intelematics, will also speak on connectivity and big data. RACV and Intelematics are premier partners and will exhibit at the congress.

Brian Negus said Australia is at the forefront of development and deployment of ITS technologies in many fields. He says the World Congress will be a chance for policy makers, practitioners, researchers and ITS providers to share information across a range of issues and set the agenda for future safety, transport and mobility solutions.

Sessions on Thursday 13 and Friday 14 October are open to the public and are free to attend if you pre-register. Otherwise there may be a small registration fee on the day.

Pre register for public days –

More details:


Written by Richard Webb
September 01, 2016