Australia continues its charge towards driverless transportation

The COVID-19 pandemic and shifting user and environmental requirements for transportation could accelerate the next round of Autonomous Vehicle (AV) development and deployment around the globe. Often hyped as the future of transport it is good news that, according to a recent KPMG global report, Australia has improved its preparedness for the introduction of AVs over the past year.

Now in its third year, the Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index ranks 30 countries on 28 key indicators of autonomous vehicle preparedness. Ranked 15th in the world, Australia has successfully maintained its position for the second year in a row, despite an increase in the number of participating countries.

Autonomous Vehicle Readiness Index

In the latest report, Australia scored top marks on AV policy and regulation, and connectivity infrastructure, specifically the availability of high-performance mobile internet.

In the last 12 to 18 months Australia has seen a lot more state based AV-related activity, particularly in infrastructure. In the past year, the Queensland Government developed its plans for ‘mobility as a service’ which recognises automation as an emerging technology.

Our states, territories and federal government were early in reforming laws to facilitate future use of autonomous vehicles and this work is continuing under the auspices of National Transport Commission’s Automated Vehicle Program. Immense progress has been made on AVs operating more safely and effectively. Looking forward, driverless vehicles could have an expanded role in addressing new requirements for moving people and goods, arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, social distancing on public transport could be facilitated by on-demand, autonomous minibuses.

Internationally, there’s been significant investment for shared, on demand, driverless minibuses. In the last 12 months trials and regular services of driverless minibuses commenced in Chile, Denmark, Finland and Norway, and tests of full-length autonomous buses in Singapore, Spain and the UK.

In Australia, Transport for NSW have been testing them since 2017. Similarly, the Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia (RAC) began offering residents of Bussleton the opportunity to ride in its driverless, electric ‘Intellibus’ on public roads, as well as continuing an earlier trial in South Perth that started in 2016.

Perhaps the pandemic, with the need for social distancing could leapfrog the implementation of autonomous vehicles on Australian roads. For example, crowded public transit could be partially relieved by on-demand, autonomous minibuses, while AVs for freight could meet the demand for contactless delivery.

Australia’s strengths lie in its regulatory environment, its willingness to consider autonomy in infrastructure projects and policies, and the range of trials already happening. But there are opportunities for organisations involved in the AV sector to engage the public in advance of the widespread availability of the technology and take a leadership role in educating the community of the transformational potential of autonomous vehicles.

A better understanding of the potential for AVs from governments and consumers will build on the gains that Australia is making in an autonomous future.

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