The RACV says it could be ten years before we see fully-autonomous last-mile buses shuttling commuters around public roads.
Speaking to CarAdvice at the launch of driverless bus trials at LaTrobe University, Bryce Prosser, general manager of public policy and corporate affairs at RACV, said autonomous technology testing was still in its "embryonic" stage.
"In terms of time frame, I guess the view we’ve taken is that it’s going to be probably about a decade before we see those potential last-mile autonomous bus solution," Prosser said. "We’ll see a progression though. Over time we’ll see a progression, we’ll see more and more trials, and we’ll see more and more advancement in the type of trials performed."
Along with the shuttle service at LaTrobe, the RACV is involved with testing in Western Australia and New South Wales, while it is also taking part in the current EastLink-Tullamarine-CityLink trials going on in Melbourne. Although all the trials are separate, the organisation is highlighting the importance of collaboration.
"We’ve agreed that we’ll share information amongst all those trials," Prosser went on. "So we understand what’s happening in those bus trials in each state, because they’re all a bit different, and we don’t want to reinvent the wheel, we actually want to understand what’s happening in those trials and we’ve agreed to share information."
The ultimate goal is to inform legislation that fosters innovation among car manufacturers and mobility suppliers. South Australia and Victoria have both expressed a desire to make themselves hubs for autonomous development, while one of the speakers at today's event went so far as to suggest the industry could pick up where vehicle manufacturing left off.
Above: Bryce Prosser
"Moving to the vehicle technology, it’s really important that we have regulations that are performance based. We don’t want regulations that stifle innovation," Prosser told CarAdvice. "We really want performance outcomes, we don’t want to specify the inputs."
"If we’re to take part in promoting that sort of approach to vehicle regulations, then we need to understand from trials; how do the vehicles react," he continued.
"That will give us a chance to understand the technology in vehicles, and then to really help the governments collectively to specify the right performance-based regulatory framework so we actually don’t kill innovation, we actually promote smart technology solutions."
Although things are moving slowly in Australia, autonomous vehicle technology is advancing apace overseas. Waymo, the self-driving arm of Google, is shuttling members of the public around real roads in Phoenix, and there are plans to have an on-demand shuttle running in Paris next year.
The type of tests being undertaken overseas is also changing quickly. Proposed changes to Californian legislation will allow autonomous vehicles to drive on public roads without a human behind the wheel as early as next year, but Victorian Minister for Roads and Transport, Luke Donnellan, told CarAdvice similar testing could be "five or six" years away locally.
“In terms of when it might happen, I’m cautious about making a prediction on that, but yes, that is the technology that is coming our way, and we will need to look at how we can accommodate the testing for that,” Minister Donnellan said. “As for when it will happen? It might be five or six years away, but that’s very much what we’re preparing ourselves for."