Digital Life

Australian researchers explore self-driving share car

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.

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

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.

"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.

A camera mounted to the windscreen of the car.
A camera mounted to the windscreen of the car. 

"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".

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

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.

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

Co-founder of GoGet Nic Lowe.
Co-founder of GoGet Nic Lowe. 

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

Comments are now closed