‘NSW must prepare for autonomous vehicle technology’: scientists

The M4 Motorway in Sydney. Proponents of autonomous vehicle technology are advocating for dedicated lanes for autonomous vehicles on freeways and other roads. Photo: Beau Giles/Wikimedia Commons, published under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.


A collaborative project involving the University of Sydney, the University of NSW (UNSW), the Melbourne-based iMOVE Cooperative Research Centre and Adelaide vehicle solutions company Codha wireless has resulted in the development of disruptive technology that can allow autonomous vehicles to track cyclists behind larger vehicles and pedestrians behind buildings.

The technology allows autonomous vehicles to essentially see the world around them through X-ray-like vision, penetrating through blind spots to detect pedestrians and cyclists.

The promising technology for intelligent transportation systems (ITS) is called cooperative or collective perception (CP). It works through the use of roadside information-sharing units with additional sensors, cameras and lidar (a method for determining distances using lasers). This allows vehicles to share what they see with other vehicles via vehicle-to-everything (v2x) communication.

According to scientists behind the project, such as Professor Eduardo Nebot from the Australian Centre of Field Robotics at the University of Sydney, the new technology will benefit all vehicles, not just the autonomous ones.

“This is a game-changer for both human-operated and autonomous vehicles which we hope will substantially improve the efficiency and safety of road transportation,” Prof Nebot said.

Being able to see vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists can help improve road safety. Photo: Phillip Mallis/Wikimedia Commons, published under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0.

Lead project researcher Dr Mao Shan said the research can increase the awareness of the more vulnerable on our roads and prioritise safety in a multitude of traffic scenarios.

“Our research has demonstrated that a connected vehicle can ‘see’ a pedestrian around corners. More importantly, we demonstrate how connected autonomous vehicles can autonomously and safely interact with walking and running pedestrians, relying only on information from the ITS roadside station,” Shan said.

Exclusive lanes for autonomous vehicles proposed

This new innovative technology comes as engineers from UNSW propose exclusive lanes for autonomous vehicles.

Dr Shantanu Chakraborty from the UNSW School of Civil and Environmental Engineering has suggested that all travellers on the road will be hindered if the roads and transport networks aren’t prepared to accommodate these vehicles.

“The mix of autonomous vehicles and legacy vehicles will cause issues on the road network unless there is proper modelling during this transition phase.”

– Dr Shantanu Chakraborty, UNSW School of Civil and Environmental Engineering

“Traffic congestion costs the economy billions of dollars every year in all the extra time spent commuting. The proposed model will help minimise interaction with legacy vehicles and reduce overall congestion on the road,” Dr Chakraborty said.

“The mix of autonomous vehicles and legacy vehicles will cause issues on the road network unless there is proper modelling during this transition phase. If we get caught out and we’re not ready, we won’t reap the full benefits of the technology behind these autonomous vehicles,” he said.

Transport for NSW has voiced its support for innovative technologies that can improve road safety. Photo: Transport for NSW/Facebook.

Transport for NSW supports proposals

A Transport for NSW spokesperson told the Sentinel they are supportive of such proposals.

“We are focussed on making NSW a leading adopter of new technology where it will deliver positive outcomes and welcome research into technology like automated vehicles,” the spokesperson said.

“Transport for NSW has been collaborating with technology providers and industry partners to explore this technology and has highlighted connected and automated vehicle technology as a priority in our Future Technology Roadmap.

“One of our trials in Coffs Harbour has seen customers become the first in the world to travel on a fully automated shuttle bus in a public setting. The BusBot shuttle service is operating without a driver or a supervisor onboard and the NSW Government has extended its trial of the driverless technology in the regional area.

“A key part of this work focuses on infrastructure and there are a number of potential options to consider in the future as the technology develops and there’s more clarity about how and when it will be rolled out in the future.”

Tileah Dobson is the news editor of the Sydney Sentinel.

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