Driverless car trials get some love in new NSW state budget

NSW's government is convinced that driverless vehicles will be a key component of the global transportation future — and state leaders want to be prepared for it. One key takeaway for cities and regional governments is that state officials see the driverless vehicle fund as a way to encourage public-private partnerships throughout the trials, including the cities in which the trials will occur. — Doug Peeples


For NSW officials, the time to get ready for the future of transportation is now. 

As NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet put it in a government announcement of a dedicated $10 million driverless vehicles trial fund, "The future belongs to those who hear it coming, and this investment looks to harness the power of technology to improve lives across the state."

NSW's Transport and Infrastructure Minister Andrew Constance, a strong supporter of advanced transportation technologies, agreed. "A decade ago things like Uber and smart watches seemed like something out of the Jetsons. Driverless cars might feel a bit like that today but the reality is they are already being built and tested around the world. The technology is here and we are going to make sure we are ready to embrace it."

Constance also said the fund, which will be allocated at the rate of $2.5 million per year over four years, will enable productive partnerships in R&D and testing. "Having a dedicated fund for trials will mean that government, universities, the private sector and start-ups can partner together to test and gain insights into how these technologies will shape our future cities and regions."

The fund will be administered by Transport for NSW's Smart Innovation Centre and testing will take place in Sydney, which already has a driverless shuttle trial underway.

Safer roads and fewer fatalities
Roads, Maritime and Freight Minister Melinda Pavey is confident that driverless vehicles will have a major role in improving transportation safety and reducing traffic fatalities. "This technology offers so many opportunities to significantly decrease our road toll numbers, so that is why we have to look at embracing it now and getting it right."

The specifics of the extent of the expanded trials are unclear at this point, although when trials began in NSW in March 2018 they were limited to Level 2 autonomous vehicles — meaning a driver had to be at the wheel at all times. The state authorized connected and driverless vehicle trials in 2017, and is now testing a smart shuttle. Council Associate Partner Telstra is one of the technology partners in that trial.

NSW isn't the only state running driverless vehicle trials. According to InnovationAus.com, investments nationwide now total more than $100 million with much more spending to come as the country works to accommodate the vehicles with the infrastructure and connectivity they need to perform safely and with full functionality.

The RAC is testing driverless on-demand passenger vehicles in Perth. A five-year trial involving a driverless shuttle to transport university students in Adelaide was announced this week. And more related projects are underway and in the planning stages.

Doug Peeples is a writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartcitiesanz on Twitter.