ACT News

Andrew Barr wants Canberra to become test site for driverless cars

The ACT government is lobbying technology giants Tesla and Google to test their driverless car models in Canberra, as part of plans to drive investment and research. 

Chief Minister Andrew Barr told the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday that the government has begun engagement with the companies and the federal government, and is working with the Canberra Business Chamber to promote the city as suitable for development of autonomous car technology.

A prototype of Google's driverless car.
A prototype of Google's driverless car.  Photo: Fairfax

The technology would have economic, social and environmental benefits and Mr Barr said its introduction was closer than many people believe. He said autonomous vehicles would complement Canberra's bus and tram services and see fewer accidents and deaths on the city's roads. 

Winning research and development for the ACT could be difficult.

The South Australian government partnered with car maker Volvo for demonstrations in Adelaide in November 2015, and private trials are also planed in Western Australia this year. 

Mr Barr said Canberra businesses and researchers were already working on autonomous vehicle technology, including in spatial awareness, communications and software development.

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The University of NSW is working with car share service GoGet​ to develop technology and Canberra-based Data61 is working on sensors and big data for transport. The Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative, based in Victoria, is collaborating with governments, universities and companies including Volvo, Telstra, Bosch, Suncorp Group, Toll and GoGet.

The ACT government's record of legalising ride sharing and working with Uber showed Canberra was serious about new services and technology, Mr Barr said. He argued many children being  born today may never need a drivers' licence, especially if early development is on the road by 2025. 

Acknowledging inevitable "bumps in the road", Mr Barr said driverless cars would help mobility and social inclusion in the community. 

"Bringing driverless cars to our city is not about early adopters playing with new gadgets. Driverless cars will change lives," he said.

"Being unable to get a drivers' licence due to living with infirmity or a disability means too many in our community miss out on what our city offers, and leaves them isolated from family, friends and support. You cannot have independence without mobility, and mobility is exactly what driverless cars offer." 

In January, the Liberal opposition put forward draft legislation to allow for autonomous vehicles to be tested in the capital, similar to existing schemes in South Australia, Britain and some American states.

Mr Barr was critical of the move in his speech on Tuesday.

"This is not about cutting and pasting regulation from somewhere else on the assumption they know better that we do," he said. "We need to make sure that our regulations actually work: for our people, our city, and industry." 

In response, Mr Coe took credit for the government's moves.

"We brought the legislation forward to encourage the discussion, because Canberra has already been identified as an excellent location to trial autonomous vehicles with its diverse road network and dispersed population," he said. 

"The technology of autonomous vehicles is developing quickly and there's a huge amount of investment worldwide from a range of technology and motor companies in this space."

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