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Autonomous vehicles - driverless or rudderless?

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Autonomous vehicles - driverless or rudderless?

Posted 8/01/2016 by Matthew L James

With the recent on-road demonstrations of driverless vehicles in the United States and

Australia the prospect of more widespread use of such autonomous operations appears to

have moved closer. However there remain questions of safety and technical issues to

resolve. In fact, there have been various autonomous vehicle demonstrations and challenges

over the past decade, so the technology appears to be maturing into deliverable systems.

Still, there are concerns around their integration into the existing vehicle transport networks

and for community acceptance. There will also be a need for revised legislation, as it is

illegal in Australia for a car to drive without human control. The South Australian state

government, however, has already moved to introduce the changes required for

autonomous or driverless vehicles to be able to legally driven on the road. Are they really


Technological Change

Autonomous road vehicles are able to drive without human intervention. As technology

develops, automation has been increasingly incorporated into vehicles to help improve road

safety, reduce the number of tasks for drivers and improve fuel efficiency. Combined with

vehicle operation are functions of navigation, safety systems, and interaction with the

surrounding environment. As development continues we may see low speed electric pods as

public transport in urban areas, vehicles operating in coordinated groups on motorways,

and individual vehicles driving autonomously.

Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS) technologies have also been trialed in

Australia. These systems share data between vehicles and roadside infrastructure, such as

traffic signals, to increase the information available to drivers about the immediate

environment, other vehicles and road users. The ARRB group has undertaken the Australian

Driverless Vehicle Initiative (ADVI), with a vision to accelerate the safe and successful

introduction of driverless vehicles onto Australian roads. ITS Australia Inc. also promotes the

development and deployment of such advanced technologies. The National Transport

Commission has begun three projects on driverless vehicle policies. The first driverless car

trials in the Southern Hemisphere were held in Adelaide in November 2015.

Driverless Disruption

Driverless cars will involve changes to the accepted business practices and economics as

operators adapt to the possibilities that autonomous vehicles represent. Organizations such

as Uber and Google are developing driverless vehicles and investigating ridesharing models,

with suggestions of such systems offering an alternative to traditional public transport.

Meanwhile, Apple is said to be moving to challenge Tesla’s electric vehicles. In recent times,

the electronic control systems in vehicles have become increasingly complex and so

manufacturers may in future argue that, since they developed and own the software that

runs such vehicles, they also have a right to the system that operates the program. Vehicle

manufacturers may insist that vehicle purchasers may only hold a license to use the product

but with no permission to modify programming or make repairs. Clearly, this has profound

implications for consumers.

Autonomous vehicles form part of a set of communications and decision-making

technologies sometimes described as the Industrial Internet—an integration of complex

machinery with networked software and sensors—which includes the more commonly

known term ‘Internet of Things’ (ITS). The standards for in-vehicle, short range vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure and mode-to-mode communication systems are under

active research and under discussion at European Union, American and global levels. ITS

also has implications for our radiofrequency spectrum planning because of its use of radio

signal bandwidth for communicating.

At the 4th meeting of the Australian Transport and Infrastructure Council on 6 November

2015 in Adelaide, the Council considered Australia’s progress in developing, adopting and

deploying Intelligent Transport Systems and noted that this work would continue in

conjunction with the upcoming review of the Council’s 2011 Policy Framework for Intelligent

Transport Systems in Australia. The Council expects to agree to an action plan and revised

framework in the first half of 2016. Over the next two decades, there should be changes in

legislation and the implementation of C-ITS trials in vehicles and along roads, before the

widespread uptake of driverless units in Australia. Here, the vehicle safety standards

function sits under the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development’s Vehicle

Certification and Vehicle Regulation activity. Transport Certification Australia is also a

national body responsible for providing assurance in the use of computer systems and

related intelligent technologies, to support the current and emerging needs of Australian


Tags: safety transport vehicles