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Infrastructure upgrades taking into account autonomous and connected vehicle needs

21 Jun 2018

NATIONAL and state road bodies are working with car-makers to take into consideration the needs of self-driving and connected vehicles when planning the future of Australia’s road network.
Speaking at the Smart Mobility Show in Melbourne this week, VicRoads director of transport futures and Austroads program director of connected and automated vehicles Stuart Ballingall said planning for future technologies relating to existing and ongoing infrastructure development has already been discussed.
“It’s challenging, but it’s a necessary thing to do,” he said. “There’s one (international) jurisdiction I’m aware of where they have to do an automated vehicle audit and basically prove that they have considered it in their design business case.
“We don’t quite have that in Victoria, but we do have to provide evidence that we’ve given it thought. (Physical infrastructure) is all considered very highly.
“So we will do them to the highest standard, not just the minimum standard, and that at least futureproofs us a little bit because industry can’t tell us exactly what they are bringing in.”
Mr Ballingall said vehicle manufacturers will be consulted on an update to road standards, but the key to emerging self-driving and active safety technologies will be uniformity. 
“Austroads will be starting a project in the new financial year, again looking to work very closely with car companies … to evolve that standard and make sure that our, not just our design standards, but our maintenance regimes and intervention levels are consistent going forward,” he said.
“Continually what we hear, not just form the auto industry but the emerging tech industry as well, is that none of them are calling for us to make wholesale changes to our road network.
“But consistency and condition will continually be quite important for what’s coming.”
Of the physical infrastructure hurdles to overcome, Mr Ballingall identified traffic signage as the most prominent that needs to be addressed for in-vehicle systems to accurately read speed limits.
“Traffic signs, now this one we are doing at a national level because part of the feedback we get from industry is about consistency,” he said.
“Compliance is not so great across some parts of our road network, particularly where councils and private-road owners put signs in over the years and decades, although we are finding that with newer camera systems they are dealing with different fonts, different sizes significantly better than the old systems.
“The positioning of signs is quite an issue with some of these systems, so an example is where you’ve got a speed sign on an off ramp or on ramp where you’ve got a main carriage way, many of the systems are confused by that.
“The current generation of systems cannot read text, so we put conditions on our signs such as it’s a lower speed zone between certain hours of the day, current systems can’t deal with that.”
Line markings are also being studied for systems such as lane-keep assist and lane-departure warning systems, with European standards of width and brightness under consideration for Australian roads.
Meanwhile, upgrades to digital infrastructure are also in the works, with new wireless frequency brands and improved cellular coverage planned for a hybrid communications approach to accommodate connected cars.
Mr Ballingall singled out data security as a significant area that needs to be addressed, which will be handled by at the federal government level.
“Security, this really has to be led by the commonwealth by taking a government perspective and that is what they are stepping up to do at the moment,” he said.
“I mentioned the national policy framework that the ministerial council has endorsed, within that is a priority action to develop a connected and automated vehicle security plan for the country, and its early days, but they are establishing that at the moment.”
However, Mr Ballingall also stressed the importance of sharing road data between governing bodies and self-driving vehicle operators.
“One of our main focuses at the moment is what data do they need from us, and different players in the industry tell us totally different things,” he said. “Working closely with the commonwealth, this is an action under the ministerial council’s national policy framework around transport technology, we are trying to identify what actions we need to take as government … (for) operators to better support these technologies going forward.
“We’ve identified the high-priority data sets they are going to need, the gaps in our business processes … (and) how they want to access to data.
“We are developing something call the data exchange platform … and we have done some initial work on how to make that data accessible to car companies and service providers.”
Examples provided by Mr Ballingall of data that car companies can make use of includes road works, traffic jams and closures that could then route self-driving systems around congestion points.
Signal-phasing traffic light data – already in use in some overseas markets such as the United States – can also communicate with connected cars to prompt when to reactivate engines with stop-start technology.
While the future of mobility is tied with autonomous vehicles, Mr Ballingall emphasised the need to build infrastructure around with people in mind first, not vehicles.
“The key thing to understand is that we no longer try to increase movement on every single vehicle … there are parts of our road network that we now design and manage for people, so that could be cafes on the side of the road or children’s playgrounds that we don’t want to be forcing more vehicles through there, we want them to have a sense of community,” he said.
“As connected and automated vehicles evolve, we need to work closely with their distributors so that the way that they bring them in, does not have a detrimental effect on how we want our road network to work for our community, and this is really, really important.”

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