This driverless bus may take drunk LaTrobe students home safely

A consortium including HMI Technologies, La Trobe University, RACV, ARRB (Australian Road Research Group) and Keolis Downer will access a grant of $375,000 through the Victorian Government Smarter Journeys...

A consortium including HMI Technologies, La Trobe University, RACV, ARRB (Australian Road Research Group) and Keolis Downer will access a grant of $375,000 through the Victorian Government Smarter Journeys Programme to conduct a trial of autonomous vehicles in Victoria.

If the 15-seater electric bus looks familiar, its because we’ve brought you news in the past of the RACV Intellibus (made by Navya) in Perth late last year. The trial will explore the use of driverless shuttles in the context of a university’s student mobility requirements. The electric bus cant travel up to 45 km/hr and gets between 5 and 8 hours on a single charge.

This is the first time such a project has been launched as a proof of concept to address first and last mile connectivity requirements. The trial starts in August 2017 and lasts for 1 year and will take place at La Trobe University’s Melbourne Campus, this provides a proof of concept (away from other traffic (and gets around the legislation hurdle). Being in a real operating environment its likely real things will happen, like people and animals interrupting the lidar-based sensors on the front and back of the bus, as wells as be set to GPS navigation paths, which all feed information to the vehicle control unit.

This vehicle is a window in the future of transport, delivering level 4 autonomy, which means no humans are required for its operation, it has no steering wheel, no pedals, just an emergency stop button. So what happens on a Friday night when a pack of drunk uni students decide to surround it in beer bottles? Do the passengers get stranded until its cleared? We’re about to find out.

Its expected to learn more about moving people around in real-world operating conditions. HMI Technologies is supplying the French built Navya shuttle for the duration of this trial.

CEO of HMI Technologies Pty Ltd Australia, Dean Zabrieszach says

“Autonomous vehicles are coming, whether we are ready or not, so we are taking this initiative to ensure we understand the implications for the community and Governments. Many people believe we are years away from seeing these vehicles on our roads, but we disagree.

Increasing levels of automated technology are being delivered, now so it’s important we understand what is required for autonomous vehicles to operate safely here.”

RACV General Manager Public Policy, Brian Negus said,

“It is important that we assess the benefits and risks of this new technology and that we share this knowledge with transport authorities and the community, so that regulations can be considered for the State from firsthand experience. Having the vehicle available to us, will allow partners to evaluate the community’s reaction to this technology and to assess the ways in which autonomous vehicles broaden our transport options”.

La Trobe University Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Keith Nugent said,

“The University is already on its way towards creating smart campuses that make it easier for students to use technology and enhance their education experience,”

“Our Centre for Technology Infusion will be coordinating the shuttle trials and have long been involved in developing technology that links businesses, enhances mobility and shapes smart cities of the future.”

Ultimately if the bus works on campus and other institutes can discover ways to finance the autonomous bus, its likely we’ll see plenty of more of these. Its a safe, reliable, repeatable technique to get people from A-to-B. Given the volume of students and staff at a University like LaTrobe, I’d love to see the trial extended to include 5 or 10 of these and watch them interact with (hopefully avoid) each other. The real step forward will be when you they’re allowed on public roads, but they will have to address the current speed limitations. That said, the amount of time traffic gets above 45km/h in Australia’s major cities is fairly limited these days.

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