The third trial of a driverless shuttle bus has been launched in Victoria this week, at La Trobe University’s Bundoora campus.
The so-called autonobus, developed by New Zealand-based company HMI Technologies, will be used to ferry students from the tram stop near Science Drive, to the main campus, which – this La Trobe alumnus can confirm – is one of the most sprawling university campuses in metropolitan Australia.
The trial, which kicked off on Monday, is a collaboration between VicRoads, Keolis Downer, La Trobe, University, HMI, RACV and the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB), and is part-funded by the Victorian government Smarter Journeys Program.
The autonobus – which has previously been trialled in Auckland and Sydney – will first undergo testing, and begin mapping its route, and will begin taking passengers from April 2018 through to July 2018.
According to the trial website, it operates on a set route based on specific map coordinates – “somewhat like a tram running on set tracks.”
Added to that, it has 360-degree cameras and multiple input sensors, to avoid colliding with any obstacles in its path, and to negotiate roundabouts and complex traffic intersections.
For passengers, the Autonobus can work on either a demand system or on a timed system. On demand, customers can ‘call’ the shuttle by pressing a button – “a bit like calling an elevator.” The shuttle then travels along the route and stops at the programmed stops.
On a timed system, the Autonobus will run on a set timetable, picking up passengers at each designated stop.
“We will be transporting a range of people around the campus during the trial – focusing on picking up customers from tram/bus interchanges or car parks and allowing them to hop off close to their destination,” said Dean Zabrieszach, HMI Technologies’ CEO.
“This will give us a good idea of how the bus integrates with other modes of transport and interacts with people.”
HMI says that “last mile solutions” like the La Trobe Autonobus, are expected to make mass public transport more attractive, by connecting people safely and efficiently from transport hubs to their destination, leading to less congestion and pollution on the roads and less need for large, expensive road and parking infrastructure.
“We regard our entrance into the AV space as a natural progression, combining our expertise in ITS technology, with growing expertise in autonomous vehicles, we’re answering outstanding questions, we are again working with transport agencies, identifying the requirements to safely introduce these vehicles to public environments as soon as possible,” Zabrieszach said.
Jonathan Myers, who heads up growth, innovation and partnerships at Keolis Downer, said the project would explore how driverless vehicles could complement existing public transport solutions.
“We welcome the opportunity given by the Victorian Government to test driverless technology in mixed traffic to understand what evolutions might be needed to provide a safe and integrated travel experience to local communities,” he said.
Stuart Ballingall, VicRoads’ Director of Transport Futures, says the Melbourne and Sydney Autonobus trials also have a broader national significance, as Australia negotiates the road to autonomous vehicle uptake.
“We hope to learn how this technology can be used while interacting with other road users, which will help to inform the development of a legal and regulatory framework for the safe introduction of automated vehicles across Victoria and Australia.”