Driving more awareness and trust in automated vehicles

Dozens of Ipswich residents have been among the first passengers to ride in Australia’s most advanced automated vehicle around Bundamba this week.

The on-road demonstrations, testing and research are part of the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads’ Cooperative and Highly Automated Driving (CHAD) pilot program with the research prototype, known as ZOE2.

Alyce Ferguson was one of the first of up to 500 passengers to travel in the self-driving car and have her heart rate and response measured through a fitbit.

“I was actually more relaxed during the drive than before I got in,” Ms Ferguson said.

“It was more natural than I thought it would be.”

Katie Grey, Madeline Ferguson and Alyce Ferguson were some of the first passengers to travel around Bundamba in the driverless car, known as ZOE2.

Using its state-of-the-art sensors to navigate traffic, intersections and roundabouts, ZOE2 reaches speeds of up to 50km/hour and has a safety person in the driver’s seat to override automation if required.

Passenger Katie Grey said she was surprised at how fast and smooth it felt.

“It felt like it was moving quite fast, but it was a bit weird watching the steering wheel because it sort of jerks slightly and doesn’t move smoothly as if someone is turning it,” Ms Grey said.

“It went a bit wide turning around the cul-de-sac, but it was interesting to see how it recognises things on the road. When we went past a truck there was a big red rectangle on the screen.

“It’d be great to be able to order a driverless Uber or for people who are elderly or can’t drive.”

TMR Project Lead Amit Trivedi was part of the small team that built ZOE2 in France, before it was flown over to Australia by cargo plane for testing.

He said the research objective is to identify safety benefits and impacts of having such vehicles on our roads.  ZOE2 also provides an opportunity to build public awareness and help understand what the community’s trust levels are around such vehicles.

“As an engineer who has worked in safety assurance, we know systems such as these are only as good as how well you program them,” Mr Trivedi said.

“But no matter how good you think your programming is, you will need to demonstrate a high level of safety performance through extensive testing, validation and certification in all weather conditions.

“Therefore, most demonstrations on open roads, around the world, are being carried out with a safety driver monitoring the vehicle performance and exercising control when needed. ZOE2 is no different.”

Mr Trivedi said there are several automated vehicle trials globally, including low-speed shuttles and ‘robo-taxi’ applications such as Google’s Waymo initiative.

But vehicles with high level of automation will not be available to purchase from car dealerships until technologies are significantly improved.

“We may see vehicles offering high levels of automation on certain roads in the next five to 10 years. ” Mr Trivedi said.

“So you’d likely have a normal car that could offer full automation on certain roads in certain weather condition, and would provide you adequate early warning to take control back when system can no longer support automation.”

He said that concerns around the ‘trolley problem’ – the hypothetical ethical dilemma where the vehicle would have to decide whether to hit a bystander or swerve and kill its passengers – did not take into account the advancing technology and the intelligence of the vehicles.

“People love to talk about the trolley problem, but the debate needs to be more open because the car actually has more options than that,” Mr Trivedi said.

“In the future, cars will be able to talk to each other, so if the car had to make a decision like that, it would say to the car opposite, ‘I’m going to swerve into your direction, and you apply the brakes’. So basically, the car would be forced to do an illegal thing, but tell all the other vehicles to stop to avoid injuries.”

In line with current Australian Government advice on managing the COVID-19 outbreak, ZOE2 demonstrations are postponed until further notice. To remain up to date on future demonstrations, and to be advised when bookings re-open, please register your details here.

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