Passengers on trial
The La Trobe trial, and other car trials conducted by tollway operators Transurban (CityLink) and Connect East (EastLink), will not only be designed to test the vehicle and the software but also the passengers.
There are several aspects to the La Trobe trial: One is to see whether the vehicle can recognise signs and line markings and test the vehicle’s various sensing and telemetry systems. This might reveal whether vehicle technology or the uniformity of road lines and signs need to improve.
“The second aspect is basically the human interface. How do we react when we are standing or sitting in an autonomous bus or car that is doing its own thing?” says Mr Negus.
There are still issues with the technology, however, because not all sensors and recognition technology can read every type of sign. This is why EastLink and CityLink are conducting trials on their own roads.
“We are aware from initial testing that there are differences in line markings and many signs cannot be read by vehicles.”
While autonomous vehicles will offer a great step forward in safety by eliminating the human error that contributes to crashes, some argue they’ll do little to improve the efficiency of the road network but will just be a bunch of unco-ordinated safety modules making their way around the network.
All about the connection
This is where connected cars and intelligent transport systems come to the rescue.
The number of cars connected to the internet (through the driver’s phone) is growing rapidly and this gives them and their drivers access to real-time traffic conditions so they can choose more efficient routes to their destinations.
The internet connection also means the traffic management centre knows whether the car is stationary or at what speed it is moving. The more cars using the application, the more accurate the traffic information will be.
However, this is once again about moving an individual car around the network. To extend the benefits of intelligent transport systems to every road user and commuter, the control system will need to incorporate and manage data from cars, trucks, trams, trains, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians.
It sounds impossible, but Professor Majid Sarvi at the University of Melbourne has set out to prove it can be done.
The university’s school of engineering and Cubic Transportation Systems have established the National Connected Multimodal Transport (NCMT) Test Bed, an ITS “laboratory” that will be based on a six-square-kilometre area of inner Melbourne, mainly the suburbs of Fitzroy, Carlton and Collingwood. The RACV is a partner here, too. It will be the world’s largest ITS trial using public roads and is planned to run for up to 20 years so that the many systems available now and in the future can be tested in the real world.
“We are developing the world’s first, large-scale connected, multi-modal transport system,” Professor Sarvi says.