A six-month trial which pairs a self-driving shuttle bus and two ‘autonomous smart transit hubs’ has launched at Holdfast Bay in Adelaide.
The trial will see an eight-person, electric shuttle called Olli – made by US-based Local Motors – traverse a one kilometre route through the beachside suburb of Glenelg between two ‘Matilda’ autonomous bus stops, developed by Local Motors and South Australian firm SAGE Automation.
The stops – situated outside the Stamford Grand and at Broadway Kiosk – feature interactive touchscreen displays and a virtual assistant powered by IBM Watson.
Olli’s away! It was great to be on hand as the trial of the Olli autonomous bus and Matilda smart transit hub was launched at Glenelg. Keep an eye out for Olli between Moseley Square and the Broadway Kiosk. pic.twitter.com/dCfPbQM64a— Paul Kermode (@PaulKermode) January 17, 2019
Both the bus and stops communicate with each other, and have the ability to respond to passenger questions, provide precise wait times, and provide recommendations on local destinations and give weather updates.
“The intelligence of Olli and Matilda is the result of an array of sensors on the bus, at the bus stop and around the route. IBM Watson Assistant draws from this IoT technology to collect and analyse vast amounts of interactions and data in milliseconds. The information to passengers is shared using Cloud based cognitive computing systems,” IBM explained.
The solar-powered Matilda stops can also communicate with hearing impaired riders, responding to sign language using machine learning and image recognition capabilities, and answer via an avatar of a person signing.
“This type of integrated technology trial has never been done anywhere in the world before, and we look forward to giving people an interactive, personalised experience, including real-time travel updates and route assistance through Matilda, and testing how this exciting technology interacts with the Local Motors driverless shuttle,” said SAGE CEO, Adrian Fahey.
“To grow smart, accessible cities of the future we need to make devices, vehicles and infrastructure talk to each other, and Matilda offers a seamless, tailored transit service by communicating with any driverless bus fleet and the people wanting to catch one,” he added.
Adelaide is fast becoming Australia’s driverless transit city, thanks in part to the SA government's Future Mobility Lab fund, established in November 2016 to drive local development of autonomous vehicle technology.
The $1.6 million Glenelg trial received $700,000 from the state fund.
Other recipients include Flinders University’s FLEX trial, and Adelaide Airport’s use of three electric driverless shuttles to ferry passengers between the long-term car park and the terminal. Another is underway at two residential communities operated by aged care provider IRT Group.
Many of the companies involved in the trails are based at the former Mitsubishi Motors manufacturing plant at Clovelly Park.
Among the main benefactors of ‘last mile’ autonomous transport are said to be those with physical mobility constraints and young people without their own vehicles.
A survey of 1200 respondents living in Western Australia conducted by RAC in 2016 found 71 per cent considered "enhanced freedom and independence for the young, ageing and those with mobility difficulties" the most likely benefit to occur from autonomous vehicles.
"An estimated 15 per cent of the world's population experience some form of disability, including many that never leave home because of transportation difficulties. Infusing smart technology, or AI, into self-driving transport has the potential to address accessibility challenges and offer people with mobility issues new found independence,” said David La Rose, managing director of IBM Australia and New Zealand.
“This kind of innovation is life changing for members of our community,” he added.