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Digital Life

Australian researchers explore self-driving share car

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UNSW and GoGet's 'self-driving' car.

UNSW and GoGet's 'self-driving' car. Photo: UNSW

One day in the not too distant future, self-driving share cars will be ferrying commuters around our streets if Australian researchers succeed in their quest to better understand our driving quirks.

Separate to efforts by Google, Toyota and Audi to create self-driving vehicles, researchers at the University of NSW are working with Australian car-sharing company GoGet to develop an advanced autonomous driving algorithm that could see a new breed of self-driving cars land on Australian shores within 10 years.

One day there's going to be a container ship arrive on a dock somewhere in Sydney and there's going to be 300 self-driving cars drive out of it. 

Nic Lowe, GoGet co-founder

Their experimental car has four radar sensors, a video camera and a small on-board computer. It can't drive itself just yet, but it is the first step in achieving autonomous driving. The car will gather data the researchers say will make cars more efficient and less prone to accidents, ultimately saving lives.

A camera mounted to the windscreen of the car.

A camera mounted to the windscreen of the car. Photo: GoGet

"We've put sensors all around the vehicle and mounted a video camera to detect pedestrians, bicycles, other cars and roadside infrastructure," said deputy director of UNSW's Research Centre for Integrated Transport Innovation, Vinayak Dixit.

"We're getting information about how people drive and how they interact with different moving entities as well as other infrastructure."

GoGet co-founder Nic Lowe, who is supplying the car for the study, said self-driving cars could be the future of car-sharing and "the future of all urban transport".

Another piece of equipment ounted to the back of the car.

Another piece of equipment ounted to the back of the car. Photo: GoGet

He said they would succeed if operators could get them to work, if governments approved them for fleets and if their touted benefits were actually proven on a mass scale.

"I have a business objective to be the first fleet buyer of self-driving cars in Australia. It might be 10 years from now, it might be 20. I might be dead by the time it happens. But I think that it will change the face of the cities and transport and we want to be in front, not behind it."

UNSW's Research Centre for Integrated Transport Innovation secured a grant of $35,000 from UNSW's School of Civil and Environmental Engineering to buy the technology systems. As well as giving access to a vehicle, GoGet also gave the researchers access to other data its cars generate.

Co-founder of GoGet Nic Lowe.

Co-founder of GoGet Nic Lowe. Photo: Nicolas Walker

The partnership between the University of NSW and GoGet was launched at the GeoNext technology conference at Australian Technology Park in Sydney on Wednesday.

In addition to powering research on self-driving cars, Mr Dixit also sees an opportunity to use the data collected by the sensors to explore the feasibility of real-time charging schemes for car insurance. The theory is that safe drivers would be rewarded by paying less for their insurance.

"What we really want to move towards is real-time insurance, where the driver's rates depend on how they drive at that moment," Dixit said.

Mr Lowe said GoGet was looking to reward safe drivers in the future.

"The area that we're focusing on is primarily insurance and identifying safe behaviour and rewarding it. We have the plan, we have the data, we [just] haven't implemented it yet," he said.

"We're obviously working through the implications of doing that and the privacy implications ... [and] whether people will actually respond to being rewarded for being safe."

Although Mr Lowe admitted that GoGet and the University of NSW would "never be able to compete with the likes of Google", he said he looked forward to the day that self-driving cars arrived and hoped the university's research could contribute to making it happen.

"One day there's going to be a container ship arrive on a dock somewhere in Sydney and there's going to be 300 self-driving cars drive out of it. And instead of [GoGet] being behind that we want to be in front of that. The day that ship arrives is the day everything changes," Mr Lowe said.

"I think it's less than ten years away."

twitter This reporter is on Facebook: /bengrubb

9 comments

  • Total Recall - 'Johnny Cab'??

    Commenter
    Scott
    Location
    Date and time
    February 26, 2014, 6:46PM
  • The show stopper here? Insurance and Warranties.

    Commenter
    FFS
    Location
    Date and time
    February 26, 2014, 7:00PM
    • Insurance will end up being more expensive for those who choose to drive themselves. The computers on self driving cars analyse the traffic in every direction thousand of times per second and always ensure they are travelling at a safe distance from the car in front. There will be no more concerns about blind spots and bumper to bumper traffic will travel at a much higher speed as the computers in the cars cooperate with each other without the human failings of ego and slow reaction times.

      Commenter
      kg2095
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 27, 2014, 10:03AM
  • Autonomous vehicles are potentially the most radical technological change society will experience since the mass adoption of mobile phones and the ubiquity of the internet. Virtually every aspect of life will be impacted by this including employment, private transport, public transport, road rage, productivity gains, injury reduction, insurance claims and premiums, design, automotive environmental impacts, traffic management, government regulation and administration. The effects will generally be positive and profound and it's good to see an Aussie company attempting to be at the forefront of this most exciting concept.

    Commenter
    Ian
    Location
    WA
    Date and time
    February 26, 2014, 9:16PM
  • I wonder what will be the response from the bloodsucking parasites in George Street & their blue-uniformed fundraisers because a self-driving car could potentially destroy a major source of revenue.

    Commenter
    Yes Minister
    Location
    Woop Woop
    Date and time
    February 26, 2014, 9:40PM
  • Cars don't generally drive out of container ships, they drive out of roll on roll off car carriers. But make no mistake, autonomous vehicles are coming and sooner than you think. I believe the reason our government will not spend money on rail is that autonomous vehicles (AVs) will revolutionise public transport and rail will not be required. So why invest billions now? AVs and associated technology will enable our roads to carry more than ten times as many passengers as they do now with lower trip times, higher average speeds, lower costs and virtually zero fatalaties and emmissions. Imagine cars electronically linked in a virtual train doing 150 kmh down the Monash Freeway travelling only centimetres apart. People won't own cars, they'll simply hire them on a trip by trip basis. No more looking for carparks. No more getting your license when you turn 18. No LHD v RHD countries. Way less signage, traffic lights etc. What about trucks? Transport operators will no longer pay drivers to haul goods. We won't even be allowed to drive on public roads anymore. Car seats won't always face forward. Some AVs will have sleeping cabins. You'll hire your high speed interstater in Melbourne at 10pm and arrive at your hotel in Sydney at 6am after a movie and a kip. Whether you like the idea on not...it's going to happen and the world will never be the same.

    Commenter
    Slewfoot
    Location
    Frankston South
    Date and time
    February 27, 2014, 8:26AM
    • It *will* happen sooner or later, but I wouldn't bet on the "sooner" bit.
      Back in the early sixties I was a volunteer driver at the TRRL in the UK where they were confidently forecasting self drive cars within ten years. Obviously the technology has changed dramatically since then but when the whiz kids can produce a "user friendly" comfuser that doesn't BSOD or wake itself up in the middle of the night unasked I will be more impressed.
      Seriously, I have seen the Google cars navigating around US streets unaided, and impressive they are. However the almost infinite variety of day to day situations that arise on the roads and which the human reacts to as a matter of course must surely present many opportunities for error - and who or what takes responsibility?
      Autolanding aircraft is a doddle in comparison with driving in a city, computer-wise - and billions were spent designing, proving and regulating the systems. Google may have a few dozen highly qualified techs maintaining their test beds - just wait until Wayne in the local franchise is entrusted with them...............

      Commenter
      Wol
      Location
      Date and time
      February 27, 2014, 2:23PM
  • >>One day there's going to be a container ship arrive on a dock somewhere in Sydney and there's going to be 300 self-driving cars drive out of it.<<

    News flash: Further attempts are to be made today to retrieve 300 cars which still lie underwater in the docks. Reports indicate that the doors were open at both ends of the ship when it docked.....

    Commenter
    Wol
    Location
    Date and time
    February 27, 2014, 1:37PM
  • "We've put sensors all around the vehicle and mounted a video camera to detect pedestrians, bicycles, other cars and roadside infrastructure,"


    Ah well, let's ignore the only sensible traffic solution - motorcycles and scooters. Just like the dumbos at he National Transport Commission do now, we'll lump them in with cars despite their different travel characteristics, road space usage and performance parameters.

    Commenter
    Anthony
    Location
    Date and time
    February 27, 2014, 2:26PM
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