When will fully autonomous vehicles be on our roads? How will it all work? Will they be safe?
It’s fair to say the anticipation around the arrival and introduction of connected and automated vehicles (CAVs), and eventually driverless vehicles, is like nothing the roads and transport industry has seen in a century – probably since the motor car took over from the horse and cart.
So when we worked with toll road company ConnectEast and La Trobe University in an important research and testing project on connected and automated vehicles, we knew it would be a spotlight moment.
ARRB is involved in all areas of CAVs research – the infrastructure (physical and digital), regulatory and operational frameworks, and humans with technology (vehicles) in demonstrations, trials and testing programs to help develop the future connected and automated transport network.
The findings of this project would enable ConnectEast, which operates the EastLink toll road in Melbourne’s east, to work with car manufacturers and VicRoads to ensure vehicle technology and road infrastructure allows for the safe introduction of hands-free driving.
ARRB was asked to work alongside toll road company ConnectEast and La Trobe University in two phases of research and testing under the Smarter Journeys program managed by VicRoads.
Phase 1 was to assess and understand the capabilities, operation and driver experience of currently available semi-automated vehicles and how they interact with the current road infrastructure, and was completed in May 2018.
Phase 2 involves testing of C-ITS (co-operative intelligent transport systems), infrastructure to vehicle communication, and is ongoing.
By way of explanation, there are six levels of vehicle autonomy from Level 0 (everything is done manually) through to Level 5 (no steering wheel, no driver). In 2019, currently available cars in Australia boast Level 2 features like Lane Keeping Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control and Park Assist. These are considered semi-automated vehicles (semi-AVs), and were the level of vehicles researched and tested here.
Fully autonomous vehicles (where the driver is no longer needed) are considered Level 4 or Level 5.
In Phase 1 of the project, the semi-AVs were trialled along a section of Melbourne’s EastLink toll road, between Springvale Rd and the Monash Freeway, including the Mullum Mullum tunnel.
In this study, the driving experience and performance of each vehicle’s automated/driver assist functions, and their interaction with the surrounding infrastructure, and traffic were noted. The aim was to understand the capabilities, operation, and driving experience of currently available semi-AVs, and how they interact with the current road infrastructure.
We assessed 13 production vehicles, with advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) such as Lane Keeping Assist (LKA), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), and Traffic Jam Assist using cameras, radar and LiDar.
Trialling took place on EastLink along a 5km test section, with four interchanges, three toll points and two speed limits (80km/h & 100 km/h). Trials took place over 28 days in a range of driving conditions. Observations of capability and performance of the vehicles was recorded by drivers and passengers qualitatively during testing.
Cars tested were:
- BMW 530i
- Honda Accord
- Honda Civic VTi-L
- Mercedes Benz E300
- Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
- Tesla X (limited trial)
- Mazda CX9
- Lexus RX
- Audi S5
- Volvo S90 (limited trial)
- Volvo XC60
- Hyundai i30 SR
- Volkswagen Arteon
The solution we delivered
ARRB’s Phase 1 work delivered a significant body of research to ConnectEast, highlighted by a six-page Executive Summary and a video chronicling the project.
Several key learnings were presented to ConnectEast including:
- Better road surfaces, signage and line markings are critical to ensuring advanced safety features such as Lane Keeping Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control in new cars can save lives.
- The advanced safety features found in new semi-automated vehicles will potentially save lives by reducing the chance of cars running off-road, driver fatigue by taking away repetitive tasks, and rear end accidents in traffic jams.
- The life-saving technology in these vehicles will only work to its maximum potential with proper road surfaces, signage and line markings.
- Public education will be essential to assist driver expectations & responsible use of semi-automated vehicles
What our partners think
“ARRB has become a reliable and supportive partner of EastLink. This is particularly true in the areas of connected autonomous vehicles, infrastructure to vehicle communications, and road pavement condition modelling and assessment.
“Through ARRB, EastLink is able to access a breadth and depth of transport technical knowledge and expertise that complements and adds to our own capabilities.
“In addition, ARRB’s significant transport research experience is valued by EastLink as it provides a different perspective which helps lead us to better informed ideas and solutions.
“By working together, ARRB and EastLink have created knowledge that is helping us better understand and prepare for EastLink’s future transport challenges.”