Competition for the status of leader in autonomous driving technology between Australia's state governments is heating up, with Victoria this week declaring it is "leading the way" on advanced driverless systems.
The announcement, part of a $1.2 million investment with technology company Bosch, follows news in the past year that the South Australian government had successfully introduced legislation that would allow organisations to test self-driving vehicles on public roads.
The Victorian government's project is something of a next-level undertaking, however, with the partnership - its stakeholders including not only Bosch but also the Transport Accident Commission and VicRoads - developing what it claims to be the first vehicle developed in Australia with autonomous driving capabilities.
“By removing human error from the equation, self-driving vehicles will play a critical role in reducing deaths and serious injuries on Victorian roads," said Luke Donnellan, Victoria minister for roads and road safety.
Globally, road crashes are estimated to be responsible for 1.25 million deaths each year. In Australia, the number of people killed on the road rose last year to 1209, a 4.9 per cent increase on the year before.
Our national ‘road safety bill’ sits at around $27 billion, annually, and it is believed that autonomous and driverless technology could reduce that cost by a huge 90 per cent.
“This self-driving car is at the forefront of automated vehicle technology and it’s been developed right here in Melbourne by local engineers,” Donnellan said.
Developed at Bosch Australia headquarters in Clayton, Victoria, the vehicle is clearly based on the already sensor-laden Tesla Model S, likewise already loaded with advanced autonomous capability.
In its regular form, the Model S - in this case, a pre-facelift P85 - is already equipped with a camera in front of the rear-view mirror, a radar unit in the lower grille, and sonor all around the body.
Those features are matched to GPS and the company's own dynamic mapping, which uses each Tesla vehicle's driving to build a networked 'fleet teaching' map to give the car a much clearer picture of road configurations and fixed objects than regular consumer-level GPS can accommodate.
Bosch's enhancements are intended to enable the vehicle to "navigate roads with or without driver input". As such, it is loaded with sensors and processing technology to help it detect and avoid pedestrians, cyclists, other vehicles and potential hazards.
Those enhancements include six radar and six LIDAR units, a stereo video camera, a specialised computer and a high-definition GPS system.
"What we have done is taken the vehicle as a base and all of the autonomous functions, all of the advanced functions, are new," Bosch Australia president Gavin Smith told media today.
Speaking with CarAdvice, he said that the systems installed by Bosch in this Model S prototype - including an additional two kilometres of cabling - "could probably put a spaceship on the moon".
Bosch says its work has resulted in a 'level four' autonomous car, which is defined by America’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Society of Automotive Engineers as a vehicle capable of fully autonomous driving in almost all situations.
Unlike level five, however, a level four-vehicle may still require human control from time-to-time, and so the vehicle is still equipped with conventional driving controls.
The car is the fifth of five built by Bosch globally as part of its wider R&D work in the driverless technology segment, although Smith claims that this example is the most advanced yet.
Smith said that Bosch expects vehicles equipped with level-four features to be on the market by around 2025, while a number of car makers have set open targets of 2020 to 2030 for launch.
The result of Bosch's work will be demonstrated to media and stakeholders this Sunday on a closed section of the Albert Park Formula One track - normally open to public use during the year - and again over the course of next week's 23rd World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems in Melbourne.
"These trials are important for VicRoads to identify how driverless vehicles are going to interact with the infrastructure in our local community," Donnellan said.