Australia’s first driverless shuttle trial turned a year old this week, during which the bus has clocked up more than 4200 km in autonomous mode.
The RAC Intellibus has made around 1500 thirty-minute trips, carrying more than 4300 passengers around its route on open road in South Perth.
The autonomous bus – which can reach speeds of 45km per hour, but averages at around 25km per hour – is fully electric and uses light detection and ranging (LIDAR), stereovision cameras, GPS, odometry and autonomous emergency braking to detect and avoid obstacles and maintain its course.
It is considered to have 'Level 4' automation (as defined by SAE International standards) which means the vehicle can perform all safety critical driving functions without any occupants.
Nevertheless, the bus has a ‘chaperone’ whom can take the wheel (actually a Playstation controller) if needed.
The first stage of the trial – which is backed by the WA State Government and the City of South Perth – took place on a closed circuit at RAC’s driver training centre near Perth Airport. That part of the trial included measuring the vehicle’s reaction to stationary and moving objects, and simulated traffic conditions.
In stage two the shuttle was taken on public roads to map out routes. During the current, final stage the bus is open to the public, and is required to read traffic signals and makes right turn manoeuvres. The shuttle's driving capability constantly improves thanks to regular software updates from its French manufacturer Navya.
In the Navya
The RAC Intellibus trial is the most mature Australian test of the Navya ARMA vehicle, which was released in late 2015.
La Trobe University will run a trial of the ARMA later this year at its Melbourne campus.
Earlier this week, the Parramatta Advertiser reported calls from state Liberal MP Geoff Lee and the Sydney Business Chamber for similar trials to take place in the city.
In May, RAC announced it was expanding its partnership with Navya to coordinate further trials of the shuttle in Australia as well as New Zealand, parts of South East Asia and Japan.
“A longstanding objective of launching Australia’s first driverless vehicle trial in South Perth is to encourage and develop further trials, build research and also encourage wider collaboration. Ultimately our aim is to increase the understanding of how driverless vehicles can be integrated in to our transport system, and how they could best benefit the community,” RAC Group CEO, Terry Agnew said at the time.
RAC has also been researching public reaction to autonomous vehicles. An online survey of nearly a thousand Western Australians found a balance in the positive and negative sentiment towards the technology.
More freedom, being able to use the travel time to do other things and fewer crashes were the most commonly reported benefits. Not being able to manually override the vehicle, cyber security threats and the accountability following a crash were the most commonly cited concerns.
Three in five thought the government should be investing to ensure roads are ready for autonomous vehicles by 2025 and just over half believed vehicle manufacturers and industry should be leading the way. Only one in five said they were confident that the government will be ready in this timeframe.