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Bosch unveils Australia’s first driverless car

Four sight: The Bosch-modified Tesla is a ‘Level Four’ automated vehicle, packed with technology that it not expected to be available in the marketplace until at least 2025.

Aussie Bosch engineers come up with parts giant’s most advanced automated vehicle

General News logo7 Oct 2016


ENGINEERS at German parts giant Bosch’s Clayton technical centre east of Melbourne have developed a highly advanced automated car – billed as the first of its kind in this country – in a bid to keep Australia at the forefront of the emerging vehicle technology.

Based on the Tesla Model S electric-powered luxury sedan, the rolling technology showcase was developed with $1.2 million assistance from the Victorian government and will be demonstrated on a closed course at Melbourne’s Formula One Grand Prix track at Albert Park this Sunday, October 9, on the eve of the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) World Congress, which opens on Monday.

Unveiling the car this week, Bosch Australia president Gavin Smith said it was the fifth autonomous vehicle built within the global Bosch Group – and the most advanced – and that the project may have secured Australia a role in the ongoing development of automated systems for incorporation into production cars.

Through the Transport Accident Commission (TAC), the Victorian government contributed $1.2 million toward development costs, with VicRoads also playing a key role in the project.

“This project has been enabled and facilitated by the Bosch group in co-operation with the Victorian government, the TAC and VicRoads – without that co-operation, it may not have been possible,” Mr Smith said.

“Having done this, we are now very confident we will continue to invest and we will see the technology further developed here in Australia.

“The number of jobs that can be created by highly autonomous driving, particularly in Australia, is hard to predict.

“What I can say is our company has been developing and engineering automotive components in Australia for 60 years (and) this project is helping secure our engineering jobs for the next decades ahead.

“The capability that existed here and had been built up over those decades, we now protect by developing new technology that allows us to be involved in global projects for customers in all corners of the world.” Victorian minister for road safety Luke Donnellan said the adoption of automated vehicles would be a big step towards achieving the TAC’s goal of eliminating road fatalities by 2055.

“This is a very important day for Victoria in terms of where our future lies,” he said.

“For me as road safety minister, it’s about how we can get the lives lost on our roads down to zero. That’s a big challenge we need to do together, whether through the infrastructure, technology or through changing behaviour.

“Bosch can develop these technologies but they need to work in a partnership with the TAC and the state government so we can develop protocols so these cars can run safely on our roads and so that those people who are driving (conventional cars) can interact safely with driverless vehicles.

“That will be a challenge for the state government over the next 10 years, as to how we develop the rules, regulations and the like to ensure we encourage innovation but in a very safe way.” It is not currently legal to operate an automated car on Victorian roads.

Acting VicRoads chief executive Peter Todd told GoAuto that the organisation – as the roads and traffic authority in the state – was vitally involved in the project so it could keep abreast of developments and understand the challenges that will come with automated vehicles.

“We have a large interest in how we might bring these sorts of vehicles onto the roads in terms of appropriate standards, ensuring they are safe,” he said.

“That’s been our involvement: understanding that they are safe, fit for purpose. In fact, under the current regulations, someone still needs to be in control.” Mr Todd said everyone had to be ready for a long transition period as automated vehicles were gradually added to the fleet.

“What we are going to see is a mixed fleet, so we might have one per cent of automated vehicles and 99 per cent normal in the early stages,” he said.

“It’s going to take a long, long time. And, when you think about it, people still ride horses. So people are still going to want to drive conventional cars.

“We don’t know where that mix is going to go, but over time we’ll see more and more (automated vehicles) and we have to work out how we get the balance between those people driving (conventional) vehicles and people who are in automated vehicles, and how do these two different fleets interact.

“We are for 10, 15, 20 years going to have a mixed fleet – at least that long.” Mr Todd said he thought the benefits of automated vehicles in terms of reductions in crashes and injuries might take 10 or 15 years to show up, although he said some of the automated systems already on cars were making a difference.

“Once upon a time we didn’t have airbags, ABS (anti-lock braking systems), all those things. But now they have become standard and so we will start to see these other safety features,” he said, pointing to driver-assist technology such as lane departure detection and autonomous emergency braking.

“They all start to become standard. So we are already seeing that go into the conventional vehicle fleet.” Mr Todd said VicRoads recognised that automated vehicles would bring ethical and moral issues about who would be responsible in the event of a crash.

“So is it the driver? Is it the owner? The passenger? Nevertheless, what we will see is less crashes. That’s got to be a better outcome, even if there is still this ethical question in the event of a crash, which we hope will be less likely,” he said.

“Who is responsible was less important than the fact that there would be fewer crashes.” The Bosch Tesla was modified by the German multinational’s Clayton-based engineers working in a team led by French-born Australian engineer Xavier Vagades. Mr Vagades is now working in Stuttgart at Bosch headquarters.

Mr Smith said the modified Tesla was now a ‘Level Four’ automated vehicle and that the technology in the car would probably take about 10 years to reach mass production.

This is just one step behind a fully automated vehicle (Level Five) that does not require any intervention by the “driver” and may not even have a steering wheel.

“What we are demonstrating now is a vehicle that is capable of coming to market, I would say, beyond 2025,” Mr Smith said.

“What comes before that will be levels of automated function, perhaps vehicles able to park themselves without a driver in a carpark, but it certainly won’t be cars that can drive in all weather, in all conditions, in all environments.

“This car has taken a team of 45 people nine months to put together. While it looks familiar – it is based on the very capable Tesla Model S – under the covers, it’s all new.

“The functions within incorporate 60 additional components including six radars, six lidars, high-resolution GPS and a stereo video camera. It has an additional 2km of copper wire running through the vehicle.

“It has more than 13 networks. The computer power would probably put a spaceship on the moon.

“The car is highly complicated and technically very advanced and is one of only five worldwide the Bosch Group has made. This one is the most advanced, and incorporates a very sophisticated human-machine interface which allows the car to detect which driver is in the passenger seat and change the configuration of it to suit that driver and their friends,” he said.

The driver recognition system also works as a drowsiness detector.

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