Bridging the ‘last mile’ transport gap, as well as pushing forward technological excellence within Victoria, was the key driver in the launch of an autonomous shuttle trial in Melbourne at the end of 2017. ‘Autonobus’ is the first automated shuttle in Victoria, and brings together the private sector, academia and Victoria’s largest mobility member organisation to explore the use of driverless buses as part of ‘first mile’, and ‘last mile’ connectivity. The project is initiated by VicRoads and Keolis Downer, and the project partners include La Trobe University, HMI Technologies, ARRB and The RACV.
Autonobus marks a turning point in the juncture between technology, urban planning and mobility solutions and is important for a fast growing city like Melbourne.
The Autonobus trial will run on an existing transport route from April to July at La Trobe’s Bundoora Campus which provides an ideal testing ground – a controlled but very near realistic ‘public road situation’, in an area 1.5 times the size of Melbourne CBD with mixed built-up environment and a large number of commuters to and from campus each day.
The purpose of the trial is to bring Autonomous vehicles one step closer to operate in a public road environment by understanding safety and operational aspects, value proposition, customer experience, legislation and regulatory hurdles and commercial and liability aspects.
Minister for Roads and Road Safety Luke Donnellan said the innovative project shows that Victoria is at the forefront of automated vehicle technology. “Automated vehicles will revolutionise how we move around our communities, that’s why we’re investing in trials that explore ways technology can be used to reduce congestion and keep people safe on our roads,” Mr Donnellan said.
In Melbourne, 74 per cent of commuters rely on a private motor vehicle to travel to work each day. As Melbourne expands, the congestion caused by so many private vehicles on the city’s roads is unsustainable, as well as environmentally unsound. Therefore, the introduction of ‘last mile’ solutions are so important, as they often provide a service where one doesn’t exist.
The back-end technology powering the shuttle also has the potential to revolutionise how we travel. The ability to have the shuttle operate ‘on demand’ like a service such as Uber, ensures that autonomous shuttles meet the expectations of today’s smartphone-driven society.
The trial also aims to create best practice guidelines on how this technology can be inclusive for all users, including those with limited mobility.
Director of La Trobe’s Centre for Technology Infusion Professor Ani Desai said the time had come for Autonobus to open its doors to passengers. “We are excited to be offering Victorians a unique opportunity to step into the future and experience first-hand world-leading driverless technology,” Professor Desai said. “The public’s participation is essential. The success of all new technologies stands or falls with the end user adoption. That is why we are inviting anyone, not only the technology enthusiasts, to come and give us feedback. This feedback will help shape the future of transport in Victoria.”