Who’s in the drivers seat? Driverless car trials start in NSW

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While we might all dream about jumping in the back of our cars and watching a movie or having a snooze while a computerised chauffer drives us home from work or the pub, the reality is when it comes to driverless cars we still have a lot to learn and a long way to go.

This was shown all too clearly last month with the tragic death of a female cyclist who was struck by a self-driving Uber vehicle in Arizona.

While this tragedy has temporarily put the brakes on the worldwide rush towards driverless cars, experts are still predicting fully automated vehicles will be a reality on our roads in as little as ten years. This means we need to start to preparing for this inevitable future.

Driverless Car Trials in NSW

The NSW Government launched its biggest trial yet of automated vehicles, testing cars with the latest technology on one of our state’s major motorway networks.

The automotive industry predicts we are just five to 10 years away from driverless vehicles being on the market, so this trial will help develop an understanding of how to prepare road infrastructure, regulations and the community for the integration of this new technology into our transport system.

The on-road trials, which have already begun and run until October, will take place on the Sydney orbital network including the Lane Cove Tunnel, the Hills M2 Motorway, Westlink M7, the M5, Eastern Distributor, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Harbour tunnel.

Does this mean cars are driving on our roads without a driver at all?

Driverless cars or more accurately, connected and automated vehicles are classified on an internationally used six-point scale of automation, beginning at zero with the driver completely controlling the vehicle up to five, which is a fully automated vehicle without any human backup.

You may in fact already have automation in your car without realising it. There are already around 100 000  vehicles in NSW that have Automatic Emergency Braking.

The vehicles we will use during this trial are classified as level two automation and are partially autonomous and so will still have professional drivers still at the helm.

Level two vehicles generally include the following features:

  • Lane Keep Assist (LKA) – proactively intervenes with steering to ensure the vehicle does not leave the lane unintentionally
  • Traffic Sign Recognition (TSR) – detects and reads road signs
  • Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) – adjusts speed (acceleration and braking) based on vehicle in front, headway setting and max speed setting)
  • Highway Assist – a combination of Lane Keep Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control or Traffic Sign Recognition

And while this project gives us a glimpse into our future, it’s still comforting to know that all the vehicles in the trial will have human drivers who  will keep their hands well and truly on the wheel.

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