Attending the Internet of Things (IoT) Festival in June opened my eyes to a world outside of my everyday, which I can only describe as inspiring. I learned just how much the IoT is changing the way businesses run, enabling them to grow, be more efficient, and make calculated decisions based on data.
There are many industries that the IoT benefits, including agriculture, utilities, transport, sport and medicine. It’s not just consumers that are more connected than ever, but farms, water meters, and vehicles, just to name a few. The topic that sparked my interest the most was The Future of Transport – namely autonomous and connected vehicles. I found this topic most inspiring as autonomous vehicles will be in my immediate future and I wanted to learn how society would be impacted.
The speakers were Neil Wong (Project Director, National Transport Commission), Simona Mihăiță (Research Scientist, Advanced Data Analytics in Transport, Data61), Denise Christie (Products & Services GM, Intelematics) and Sue Wiblin (Manager New Mobilities, Kelios Downer). The panel focused on autonomous vehicle trials in Australia, safety concerns, laws to be changed, and our society’s mindset.
Trials in Australia
The National Transport Commission (NTC) created trial guidelines in 2017 so manufacturers and technology companies could test their autonomous vehicles in Australia. Trials were then planned across all states and territories. One trial that was mentioned by the panel was the LaTrobe University Autonobus shuttle, which picked up passengers from car parks and tram and bus interchanges and dropped them off at predetermined university destinations. The Autonobus has advanced sensor systems and predictive services allowing action to be taken to prevent collisions. This trial, along with many others, will provide the data needed to plan for a safer driverless future.
No conversation about our driverless future is complete without many questions regarding safety. Currently, human error contributes to more than 90% of road accidents, 30% of which are alcohol related. Human error can also be caused by inexperience, driver fatigue and driver distraction.
Driverless cars would not be seen to have these problems and would look to reduce death and injuries on Australian roads. However, the recent accident with an Uber autonomous car in the USA raised concerns at the IoT Festival. The panel discussed that there are many moving parts that will need to work together, and collaboration between government, manufacturers and owners will be vital in creating a new ecosystem for autonomous vehicles to run within today’s society. Vehicle manufacturing, maintenance, software and the programming will also be key in creating safe and trusted autonomous vehicles.
In South Australia, 134 laws will be required to change to enable autonomous vehicles onto public road for trials. These include rules around permits for unregistered vehicles, seat belts for safety operators, and process changes; and even if we have safe autonomous vehicles, there still may be accidents as external factors will always be at play. The panel were asked who they thought the responsible party would be if an accident occurred on Australian roads, and all agreed that it could fall on the owner, the manufacturer or the technology company whose software runs the autonomous vehicle.
By 2020, the NTC aims to have an end-to-end system of regulations for autonomous vehicles in Australia. Will these regulations be complex enough for all situations? If an owner is at work and not using their autonomous vehicle, and they rent it out and that person is involved in an accident, who is responsible for the vehicle? Compulsory third-party insurance may be enforced for all owners and new laws will need to be created. This evolving trend is solving old problems, however creating new challenges which will need to be addressed by multiple groups investing in this new driverless society.
Currently, cars are crucial to our way of life and for the majority they are our primary mode of transport. Cars are comfortable, peaceful and you have sense of freedom owning your own car, because you can travel where you want, when you want.
So, why would those in our current society care about autonomous vehicles? Private cars sit idle 95% of the time and are an inefficient, depreciating asset for most Australians. You’re paying for a car, but only getting comfort and freedom 5% of the time. This is a cultural shift that Australians will need to embrace before they can realise the benefits of a driverless society through their financial savings, safety on the road, greater mobility options, reduced journey times and reduced environmental impact.
Australia is at the forefront of a driverless future and according to the NTC, it’s likely we’ll be seeing autonomous vehicles for sale and on our roads in under two years. Is our society ready for such a shift in mindset and trust in technology? I look forward to finding out!