How Perth is setting the stage for driverless cars in Australia

Photo courtesy of RAC Western Australia/Navya

The RAC says the passenger vehicle trials will take place in Perth, which will make the city the first in Australia (and one of three cities in the world) to test this type of on-demand transportation service.

As RAC Group CEO Terry Agnew explained in a statement about the trials, the RAC is firmly convinced autonomous vehicles are coming. As he put it, "Increasing levels of automation in vehicles are an inevitable part of the future, and the notion of them being in widespread use on our roads is not a question of if, but when.

"RAC recognizes that in order to adapt to new technologies, we must start preparing a roadmap of changes by way of trials to determine what will need to occur for automated vehicles to safely transition onto our roads."

The trial will happen in stages beginning next year. The six-passenger AUTONOM vehicles manufactured by France-based Navya are expected to be delivered in Perth in April 2018.

The AUTONOMs are equipped with a full complement of sensor technology with 10 LIDARS (light detection and ranging), four radar units, six cameras and other technology to enable the vehicles to see their surroundings in 3D and travel autonomously and safely. They also include Global Navigation Satellite Systems to track their position and are linked to supervision. During testing, a person capable of taking over the controls will be on board.

It's not simply about testing technology
An element of the Intellibus trial we reported on earlier this year was to familiarize people with the technology — to let them use it to see what the experience of riding in a driverless vehicle is like and to provide feedback. That also is an essential part of the AUTONOM trials. When the vehicles are driving on public roads, people will be invited to sign up to participate in road tests. The vehicles will first be tested on private roads.

"By giving Western Australians the change to see the technology, use it and experience it, we are learning more and working towards being ready for driverless vehicles," Agnew said.

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