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Volvo backs first Australian autonomous car trial

Going it alone: The South Australian government's Driverless Vehicle Initiative will herald the first autonomous vehicle journeys anywhere in Australia.

ARRB and Volvo to champion self-driving car trial in South Australia

21 Jul 2015

VOLVO has teamed up with the South Australian government and the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB Group) to pioneer the country's first autonomous vehicle trials.

Kicking off from November this year, the Swedish car-maker will provide a specially prepared XC90 large SUV that will conduct a series of controlled tests to asses the viability of self-driving vehicle technology on local roads.

The trial was initiated by the ARRB as part of its Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative, which has brought together technology partners Bosch and Telstra as well as Volvo, with testing due to coincide with the start of the Driverless Vehicle Conference on November 5.

With a significant amount of driver assistance technology fitted as standard to the XC90, only relatively minor modifications were required to automate the SUV, including a reprogram to allow its various systems to be operated hands-free.

While Volvo is on track to commission about 100 autonomous vehicles on Swedish roads by 2017, the South Australian trial is the first of its kind Down Under and is likely to pave the way for further evaluation.

Ultimately, the tests will lead to fully functional prototypes and after that, production models, says Volvo Cars Australia managing director Kevin McCann.

“As a leader in the development of autonomous drive technologies, Volvo’s aim is to make this technology realistically available for customers in production cars in the near future,” he said.

“Volvo believes autonomous drive technology will deliver significant consumer and societal benefits, including improved traffic safety, improved fuel economy, reduced congestion, and the opportunity for improved infrastructure planning.

“We are delighted to be involved with the ARRB demonstration and conference in South Australia, where we believe Volvo Car Australia can make a positive and significant contribution.”

The demonstration will apply research already completed in other global trials and uses Volvo IntelliSafe Assist features including Adaptive Cruise Control with Pilot Assist, Lane Keeping Aid, Distance Alert, and Speed Limiter Function to drive the car without human instructions.

While the lessons learned in other worldwide testing benefit the Australian trial, ARRB Group managing director Gerard Waldron explained that local testing was essential if production vehicles were to be viable here.

“ARRB will establish how driverless technology needs to be manufactured and introduced for uniquely Australian driving behaviour, our climate and road conditions, including what this means for Australia’s national road infrastructure, markings, surfaces and roadside signage,” he said.

“The trials in South Australia this November will be the first of many trials nationally, with discussions underway in a number of jurisdictions.

“ARRB Group is calling for additional states, territories and partners to support this important national research initiative. We’re seeking technology and automotive industry partners to assist us in Australia’s driverless vehicle innovation.”

Amongst the numerous supporters of the first local driverless car trials, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) has also weighed in with praise for the initiative.

“To effectively introduce driverless vehicles into Australia, it is vital that governments and industry work together to ensure that the infrastructure and systems that support the vehicle are set up and maintained,” said FCAI chief executive Tony Weber.

“I encourage governments around the country to take a lead from the great work of the South Australian government, who are taking important steps to facilitate the introduction of autonomous vehicle technology and infrastructure into Australia.”

Mr Weber went on to say that the FCAI had begun broader discussions with the Australian government to discuss the federal legislation for autonomous vehicles – a subject often cited as more challenging than the technology itself.

“The FCAI will continue to engage with the South Australian government on their important driverless vehicle initiatives and we look forward to seeing the developments and results in due course,” he said.

South Australian premier Jay Weatherill added his support of the trials saying the initiative would benefit the local economy as well as the potential road safety benefits.

“This trial presents a fantastic opportunity for South Australia to take a lead nationally and internationally in the development of this new technology and open up new opportunities for our economy,” he said.

The Royal Automotive Association (RAA) is also supportive of the milestone trial, with public affairs general manager Penny Gale explaining the importance of exploring the measures required for autonomous car infrastructure.

“This type of technology has the potential to be a real win for road safety and mobility,” she said.

“Removing the need for a driver will open up a whole new transport opportunity for many of our members, particularly people with disabilities and the elderly.

While removing the reliance on human behaviour will undoubtedly save lives.

“This trial will help us gauge the opportunities and issues road users might face, and help us better prepare our members for future of transport that is rapidly approaching.”

In addition to the self-driving Volvo demonstration, the two day conference will also host a number of discussions including a keynote speech from one of the company's top international safety experts, Dr Trent Victor.

After the initial demonstration, Volvo and its partners will continue local testing and discussions, working towards the participation of other states, organisations and manufacturers.

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