Australia to run first robo-car trials in sleepy Adelaide

Telstra, Bosch and Volvo and South Australia sign up for hands-off driving test

+comment Australia's first trial of driverless cars will take place this November.

The Australian Road Research Board (ARRB) and the South Australian government announced the tests today. Volvo's providing the cars, the XC90 to be precise, Bosch is tossing in its automated driving technologies and Telstra (Australia's dominant telco) is providing connectivity.

The scope of the trials seems limited: there'll be two days of tests on November 5th and 6th to coincide with a conference. How many cars and how far they'll go hasn't been discussed, but the cars will apparently drive around the airport, the Southern Expressway and Tonsley Innovation Park.

It's hoped the trials "will establish how driverless technology needs to be manufactured and introduced for uniquely Australian driving behaviour, our climate and road conditions, including what this means for Australia’s national road infrastructure, markings, surfaces and roadside signage,” according to the ARRB's group managing director Gerard Waldron.

All involved are saying what a wonderful idea this is because autonomous, or semi-autonomous, cars are clearly the future and the far-sighted South Australia is therefore stealing a march on Australia's larger, wealthier and more populous states. South Australia's also keen to build new industries because auto-making is about to leave the State and ship-building may not be far behind. Just what the trial means for the possibility of autonomous vehicles actually becoming an option in Australia is also left un-discussed amid the mutual back-slapping about the significance of the trials.

+Comment Such cynicism aside, South Australia's a decent place for such tests. The term “sleepy” is often and not-unjusitfiably applied to Adelaide, so traffic conditions should be decent. South Australia is also largely empty, as The Reg discovered during our two World Solar Challenge adventures. Indeed, as your correspondent and colleague Richard Chirgwin made the long trek down the Stuart Highway, we pondered satellite-guided convoys of road trains as a replacement for human-controlled vehicles. Road trains make the trip to the Northern Territory, supply remote locations or service distant mines. There's precious little rail infrastructure in the State, so autonomous vehicles offer the chance for cheaper transport.

For now, the November trial looks like it's rather more limited in intent. But the potential is clearly there for autonomous vehicles to serve a very useful role in South Australia. And, of course, well beyond. ®

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