SA govt backed driverless vehicle trials get underway

Autonomous shuttle experiments about to set off in Adelaide

The first in a slew of South Australian government funded autonomous transport trials is due to commence in Adelaide next week.

Aurrigo, the Australian subsidiary of UK driverless shuttle supplier RDM Group, will begin testing its cargo-carrying autonomous vehicles at the Tonsley Innovation District, after receiving $1 million from the government’s Future Mobility Lab fund.

The first of three vehicles – which are fitted with multiple sensor technologies, including stereo cameras, LiDARS (laser-based light detection and ranging sensors), odometry and ultrasonics – has already arrived in Adelaide, with two more being shipped early next year.

They have a top speed of 24km/hour, and an operational range of 60 miles. They can be operated by an external driver if required and are able to communicate with each other to choreograph movements in complex environments like warehouses and airports.

Aurrigo opened a facility at Tonsley – which sits within the former Mitsubishi Motors manufacturing plant at Clovelly Park – in January to serve as RDM’s Asia-Pacific headquarters.

RDM has already hinted at plans to manufacturer its pods in the state.

“Establishing our base in Adelaide is hopefully a first step towards developing a bespoke assembly facility in South Australia that could potentially build hundreds of autonomous Pods every year and create tens of local jobs,” RDM Group chairman Dave Keene said in March.

The Tonsley trial runs until June 2019.

In August, as first reported by Australian Ageing Agenda, aged care provider IRT Group revealed it would be partnering with RDM to pilot the use of driverless vehicles on private roads at its Kangara Waters residential community complex in Canberra and another site in Brisbane.

Autonomous a-go-go

The SA government's $10 million Future Mobility Lab fund was established in November last year to drive local development of autonomous vehicle technology.

Adelaide Airport is among the recipients of funding, and will use its $1 million to trial three electric driverless shuttles – supplied by French manufacturer Navya – to ferry passengers between the long-term car park and the terminal.

“Adelaide Airport is keen to be an early adopter in this space. This will be a flagship project that, following a full feasibility study, has the potential to substantially improve customer service to match the expectations of visitors and travellers to our modern gateway airport,” said the airport’s managing director Mark Young.

“A small fleet of autonomous electric vehicles would replace our current diesel powered shuttle buses, servicing our long-term and staff car parks. Their compact size and agility will enable them to operate on a dedicated path at an increased frequency, potentially operating 24 hours a day, reducing road congestion and significantly lowering carbon emissions,” he added.

Navya this week told Adelaide’s Advertiser the shuttles for the trial would arrive by Christmas.

Flinders University received $4 million from the fund for a five-year driverless shuttle project, which will also utilise Navya vehicles.

Run in partnership with the RAA, Cohda Wireless, Renewal SA, SAGE Automation, SIEMENS, Telstra, UPG, ZENEnergy and Keolis Downer, the trial will work towards putting driverless shuttles on public roads within the Tonsley precinct and connecting them to nearby bus stops on South Road and Clovelly Park train station.

Flinders University shuttle concept
Flinders University shuttle concept

“In order for driverless vehicles to become an integral part of our transport system we need to have trials that prove the technology under real world conditions, and encourage public participation. These ‘last mile’ trials do just that,” said Flinders University’s head of civil engineering, Professor Rocco Zito.

The project will include the development of a mobile app, so people arriving by bus or train to Tonsley can book a shuttle to meet them.

Other driverless vehicles trials are getting underway elsewhere in Australia. On Monday, La Trobe University in Melbourne launched its Autonobus scheme which will from April next year carry students and staff from the university campus to nearby transport network nodes.

Part-funded by the Victorian Government Smarter Journeys Program and run in partnership with RACV, Keolis Downer, Vic Roads and ARRB (Australian Road Research Board) the trial – run by HMI Technologies – again uses a Navya made vehicle.

In September, HMI Technologies told Computerworld it was considering Australia as an assembly base for its own model of autonomous vehicle, the Ohmio.

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