Kangaroos One Leap Ahead of Driverless Cars...
Kangaroos are proving to be the biggest obstacle for driverless car technology, despite recent support from the Federal Government to fast track the development of intelligent transport systems.
Co-operative research centre, iMOVE CRC, has recently received $55 million investment from the Government to fast track the development of intelligent transport systems including driverless cars, ‘smart’ roads, and infrastructure to support multiple fuel types and hybrid power trains.
Anita caught up with iMOVE Managing Director, Ian Christensen, to find out more about the future of driverless technology, how it could support regional Australia, and what to do about those unpredictable kangaroos.
Mr Christensen said we are likely to see driverless technology on our major roads by 2021, but a "whole set of challenges and opportunities" could delay the presence of driverless cars on our regional roads.
"We see quite good potential for these vehicles to work in regional areas, both in terms of helping towns folk get to and from home ans the shops, or home when you've had a few too many drinks.
"It will [also] help elderly citizens maintain their mobility without having to go into special care," he said.
However, Mr Christensen was frank when describing how driverless vehicles will be challenged in regional Australia because of kangaroos.
"At the moment they can recognise humans...dogs and cats, [but] they haven't learnt yet to recognise a kangaroo, or what to do when you see one.
"There is some adaptation still required, and it's not clear yet how good [driverless cars] will be on dirt roads. "They're very reliable on sealed roads...able to navigate their way down a strip of bitumen, but if you take them off, on the dirt tracks, I'm not so confident," Mr Christensen said.
"I think their use will be directed towards particular applications, at least for the first few years."
When asked about the timeline for driverless technology in regional communities, Mr Christensen said: "If the community wants it, I'm sure there will be one or more manufacturers who will go down the path of teaching the vehicle how to follow road tracks on a dirt road, even in the absence of white lines."
"We already have mining trucks that can do that perfectly well on mine sites...the technology already exists, it just hasn't been applied to conventional passenger vehicles working on public roads," he added.
"At some level everything will be possible, but the 'when' will depend on how much people want it to happen."
The new smart intelligent systems being developed in Australia will not only be available for use locally, but also for export to developing Asian cities in the region.
The global market for intelligent transport systems is estimated to be worth $50 billion by 2020.
Image Source - Google driverless car, Steve Jurvetson