by George Nott

Adelaide driverless shuttle hits open road with public aboard

Jun 19, 2018
Artificial IntelligenceBusiness IntelligenceCollaboration Software

A driverless shuttle bus will carry passengers on public roads in South Australia for the first time as part of a five-year trial of autonomous vehicle technology backed by the state government.

Members of the public can book a ride on the electric shuttle bus this week, which will initially provide ‘first mile–last mile’ services between Adelaide’s Clovelly Park Train Station and Tonsley Innovation District Main Assembly Building (MAB). It will then continue to bus stops on the main South Road and businesses within the Tonsley precinct.

Within the next 12 months the route will be extended and serve the Flinders Medical Centre and the University’s Bedford Park campus before using main arterial roads around the entire Bedford Park precinct.

Rides can be booked on the Flinders University website.

“Demonstrations and trials of these driverless vehicles that involve the community are a really good way of building acceptance of this type of new technology,” said the university’s head of civil engineering Professor Rocco Zito.

“Our aim is not to prove the technology but rather expose the public to this new type of transport service and learn from their responses and reactions to help driverless vehicles gain general acceptance,” he added.

The French-designed Navya Arma electric shuttle can carry up to 15 passengers at speeds of up to 40 km per hour, but will travel up to 30 km per hour during the trial. Dubbed ‘FLEX’ (Flinders Express) the shuttle will be managed by an on-board chaperone who will talk to users about the technology and ensure their safety.

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Flinders University received $4 million from the fund for a five-year driverless shuttle project which is being carried out with The Royal Automobile Association of South Australia (RAA), and the state government’s Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure.

It is being carried out in partnership with Cohda Wireless, Renewal SA, SAGE Automation, Telstra, UPG, ZenEnergy and public transport operator Keolis Downer – and last year received $1 million from the government’s $10 million Future Mobility Lab Fund.

The TonsleyInnovation District is also home to another, separate driverless vehicle trial which also receive funding from the Future Mobility fund, being carried out by Aurrigo.

The trial, which continues until June 2019, features three cargo-carrying autonomous vehicles called Pod Zeros.

Aurrigo, the Australian subsidiary of UK driverless shuttle supplier RDM Group, opened a facility at Tonsley – which sits within the former Mitsubishi Motors manufacturing plant at Clovelly Park – last year to serve as RDM’s Asia-Pacific headquarters.

The FLEX trial passengers will be among the first in Australia to hitch a ride on a driverless shuttle.

The country’s first driverless bus trial commenced in September 2016, in South Perth. In the third, passenger carrying phase of the trial the RAC Intellibus (a Navya ARMA vehicle) made around 1500 thirty-minute trips, and carried more than 4300 passengers on open road in its first year of operation.

Earlier this year La Trobe University began offering members of the public rides in its Navya-made The Autonobus. More than a thousand people signed up to take a trip.

The La Trobe ‘The Autonobus’

Aged care provider IRT Group is expected to commence trials of driverless vehicles (Aurrigo Pod Zeros) at two of its residential communities later this year.

Community residents will be able to hail a Pod Zero via an app either themselves or with the help of centre staff, select a pick-up time and location, then travel independently to appointments and social events.

The NSW Government today budgeted a further $2.5 million (amounting to a commitment of $10 million over four years) to trials on the adoption of connected and automated vehicles, in its Budget 2018.

An autonomous shuttle is currently being tested on an enclosed off-road environment at Newington Armory, close to Sydney Olympic Park. The public will get to take rides in the shuttle (a Navya ARMA) within the next few months.