A trial of autonomous driving technology will be carried out on Melbourne's tolled Eastlink motorway from the second half of 2017, the Victorian state government has confirmed.
The news follows confirmation just days ago that Victoria's Andrews Labor Government would also carry out autonomous technology tests on the Monash-Citylink-Tullamarine corridor.
Today's announcement details a collaborative research project between the Andrews government, independent consultancy the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB), LaTrobe University and Eastlink operator ConnectEast.
And, while Bosch is the only automotive company to have been confirmed as a participant in the earlier announcement, Swedish car maker Volvo - having already participated in ARRB's Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative in South Australia last year - is expected to be involved with the Eastlink tests.
The ultimate goal of the Eastlink tests will be to prepare the tollway's communications and monitoring infrastructure for the advent - and legalisation - of advanced 'level 3' self-driving vehicles.
The first stages of the project is to develop a classification system for Australian roads, specifically related to their readiness for vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I).
ARRB defines this stage as "a grading system so car manufacturers can enable hands-free driving, on roads that meet the criteria".
Importantly, the trial will test cars already available in Australia with semi-autonomous driving technology baked in. That would include, among others, the new Volvo S90 and XC90, the BMW 7 Series and incoming new 5 Series, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the incoming new E-Class, and, of course, the Tesla Model S and new Model X.
In the second half of 2017, the tests will incorporate Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS), used to facilitate vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication (together forming 'V2X').
This aspect, forming part of the 'Connected Autonomous Vehicles' (CAV) concept, is crucial in that advanced automatic communication will minimise the potential for unforeseen incidents.
Later, in 2018, vehicles like (and possibly including) those above will be tested among regular daily road users on Eastlink in a hands-free capacity - in advance of Eastlink setting its V2X systems live.
"By the completion of the research project in 2018, it is expected that EastLink will support vehicle manufacturers activating the technology so commuters can safely enjoy hands-free driving, pending the necessary legislative changes being made," the ARRB said today.
"This will mark a significant milestone in the race to put Australia on the international map as a leader in driverless vehicle technology and a place where vehicle manufacturers can test and deploy their latest technology."
The project is supported by a $578,000 Victorian government grant, confirmed today by Victoria's roads minister, Luke Donnellan.
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