FIRST there was Google, then Audi and most other major car makers jumped onboard. Now a South Australian university has teamed with Telstra, Volvo and Bosch to trial new driverless cars being developed by homegrown engineers right here in Australia.
Starting with small steps, testing over two days in November will rate how the technology performs at overtaking, lane changing and emergency braking.
Within a decade, the SA government has flagged it will pass laws to make autonomous vehicles legal on the state’s roads.
Premier Jay Weatherill wants South Australia to become a key player in the industry, which is forecast to be worth $90 billion within 15 years.
“We want to encourage other global businesses to come to South Australia to develop and test their technologies”, he told ABC Online this week.
“Driverless cars have the ability to revolutionise transport in this country and we want to be at the forefront of that paradigm shift.
Autonomous cars can be legally registered to travel on roads in four American states. More are set to follow.
They will revolutionise the lives of people who can’t drive conventional cars, such as the blind, physically disabled and some elderly people, as demonstrated by this video showcasing Google’s autonomous car in 2010.
Meanwhile, Audi has combined Smartphone and GPS tracking technology to unveil its autonomous vehicle. Watch this video to find out how.
For Sci-Fi movie makers, autonomous cars have long been a favourite, as Tom Cruise demonstrated in the 2002 blockbuster The Minority Report.
The good and the bad
Some pundits believe driverless cars could almost eliminate traffic jams by increasing the speed at which they can be safely driven and radically reduce the gaps between vehicles, significantly boosting the capacity of the existing road network.
But there are concerns that a huge spend to improve crumbling road infrastructure would be needed, as well as major incentives to remove old, unsafe cars from the network.
And some pundits fear hackers could intercept wireless signals and take control of cars through security holes.
Writing for The Week this month, journalist Paul Waldman said: “That wireless connection is what could potentially allow access to the dozens of computing systems inside your car, the ones that control everything from the steering to the brakes to the lights and a bunch of other things you’ve never thought of.
“That creates enough of a security problem, but what about a fleet of robot cars? In order to take full advantage of their potential, they’d have to be constantly sending and receiving wireless signals. And at least in theory, a car that is fully automated and fully connected can be taken over by someone other than the person sitting in it.”
An international conference in Adelaide that coincides with the driverless car trials on November 7 and 8 will address these and other questions autonomous cars pose to engineers and lawmakers.
The final word could go to South Australian Transport Minister Stephen Mullighan, who believes that robot cars will save lives.
“We know that about 90 per cent of all crashes are caused by driver error and driverless cars have the potential to see far fewer deaths and injuries on our roads in the future,” he said.
But we thought Jeremy Clarkson and the team at Top Gear deserve it more!