New regulations clear the way for ‘smart’ traffic solutions

| January 16, 2018

The vast distances between Australia’s major cities, and the intense congestion which clogs urban roads, create major costs for the nation’s companies as well as inconvenience its citizens. While the traditional solution has been to build expensive new roads, new technology which allows vehicles to communicate with each other and traffic control systems are set to improve traffic flows while creating new commercial opportunities for mid-sized firms.

While driverless vehicles are increasingly employed in Australia’s mining industry and their potential for long distance road haulage is clear, the much anticipated adoption of driverless passenger cars may still be years away. However a wider range of new ‘smart’ transport systems are already being trialled and new regulations are encouraging their adoption.

In another step towards a more integrated future, the Australian Communications and Media Authority recently introduced the Radiocommunications (Intelligent Transport Systems) Class Licence 2017 to support the use of complying wireless technologies and devices, for example.

The new rules, developed after industry-wide consultations, will allow Australia’s road traffic authorities to roll out intelligent transport systems to empower vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-person and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications.

‘ITS are expected to make roads smarter, safer and cleaner through the use of communications technologies,’ said the acting chair of the ACMA, James Cameron in a statement announcing the news. ‘The new Class Licence will facilitate the rollout of the latest transportation communications technology, putting Australia on par with other nations adopting ITS.’

The regulations allow the 5.9 GHz band to be used for ITS in Australia, and are consistent with the ITS arrangements in major vehicle markets such as the United States and European Union. Harmonising Australia’s ITS arrangements with wider global developments means Australian motorists are more likely to enjoy the benefits of connected vehicles as soon as they become available.

While integrated communications and driverless technologies should reduce congestion, pollution and traffic delays, their greatest benefit could be reducing the enormous human toll of traffic accidents around the world.

It’s estimated that up to 3 million people die every year in car accidents around the world, and 94% of car accidents involve human error. 3,287 people die in a car accident every day on average, with 1,200 people dying on Australia’s roads every year.

States lead the way on ‘smart vehicles’

The new rules should further the development of smart transport schemes being trialled in several Australian states and pave the way for the eventual introduction of fully autonomous vehicles.

New South Wales‘ Department of Transport has run a trial for connected trucks and buses for several years in the Southern Highlands, Port Botany, Port Kembla, and Wollongong, linking 60 trucks and 11 buses with road infrastructure such as traffic signals and hazard alerts. It expanded the tests to include passenger vehicles around Sydney last year and has hailed connected and autonomous vehicles as “game-changing technology”.

The department is now working with universities and other partners to analyse the data generated by the scheme to inform improvements in passenger safety, environmental standards and traffic efficiency. It is looking to expand the current trial to more areas with the eventual aim of implementing on-demand forms of public transport.

A two year trial of a driverless shuttle bus is also underway, under the auspices of the state government, in Sydney’s Olympic park as part of the NSW government’s vision for a ‘technology-enabled transport future’.

The Royal Automobile Club (RAC) of Western Australia and the Western Australian government will soon collaborate in a trial of Navya’s “Autonom” electric-powered autonomous vehicles in “a closed and controlled environment” in Perth and two other sites. Passengers will be able to book through a smart phone app, similar to ride-sharing services such as Lyft and Uber.

The RAC previously experimented with a driverless electric shuttle bus in August 2016. The RAC Intellibus carried more than 2,000 passengers along the South Perth Esplanade for a distance of about 3km, using a combination of light detection and ranging, stereo cameras, GPS, odometry, and autonomous emergency braking to detect and avoid obstacles.

In Victoria, an Autonobus is now transporting students around La Trobe University campus as part of a trial due to run until July this year. The driverless bus uses 360-degree cameras and sensor systems to detect objects and runs a set route based on map coordinates. Transurban is also conducting an 18 month evaluation of a driverless vehicle in Melbourne.

The South Australian government launched a AU$2.8 million trial of driverless shuttle buses between Adelaide Airport’s terminal and its long-term carpark in March 2017 while in the Northern Territory a driverless bus trial is now in its second phase in Darwin, although the vehicle carries a driver on board for safety.