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Driverless vehicles heading in the right direction

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Imagine… you press the button on your smartphone as you leave the office and like clockwork, your driverless car meets you at the door.  Once on board, you begin to relax in the familiar quiet and comfortable interior that is becoming your mobile living space.  Will you continue on with the tasks from the office, or enjoy the tranquility as the world goes on with its business?  The choice is yours as the car safely navigates its way through traffic to your next destination.

This vision moves a huge step closer to reality this Saturday with Australia’s first demonstration of driverless vehicle technology on public roads.  The demonstration, led by the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB) as part of its Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative (ADVI), is the first in a series of trials designed to accelerate the safe and successful introduction of driverless vehicles onto Australian roads.

AGL Energy Limited is supporting the ADVI to help maximise the benefits of driverless cars by having them run on cheap, renewable electricity.  We’re looking to partner with car makers and technology providers, property developers and owners, governments and the community to demonstrate electric driverless cars and raise awareness, understanding and acceptance.  Fewer, quieter cars that are better utilised and more efficient can help enhance Australia’s liveability and productivity.

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Automated valet parking – demonstrated at the start of this year by BMW – is expected to be one of the early applications of completely driverless car technology (used with permission from BMW Australia)

The benefits of driverless cars for individuals will be a key influence on their adoption.  According to research by Ford, seventy-four percent of adults say that when they’re in transit, they try to use that time to accomplish something else.  With driverless cars, the least-enjoyable aspects of driving could be eliminated, such as looking for a park, dealing with slow-moving traffic or staying focused on the highway.  What’s become known as the parental taxi service may become a thing of the past, as the Family Autonomous Vehicle navigates its way between tasks independent of a licensed driver.  Research by global consultancy KPMG found that car insurance costs could halve by 2020 with the increased presence of driverless vehicles.  And as a Monash University study found, children are twelve times more distracting to a driver than talking on a mobile phone.  So families, in particular, could benefit from driverless car technology.

As adoption translates to economies of scale, the societal benefits will become clearer.  Household shift towards one-car families will increase their spending power.  According to research conducted by Morgan Stanley, goods and services could become cheaper as freight costs go down due to self-driving trucks.  And based on NSW Government data, seventy percent of road deaths currently attributable to speed, fatigue and alcohol will be significantly reduced.  Research conducted in Europe suggests eliminating vehicles looking for parking could reduce city traffic by as much as fifteen percent.  And the disabled and aged will benefit from a reduction in the barriers to their continued mobility.

Australia’s transport energy and emissions will also greatly improve.  With fewer cars on the road and better coordination of them, transport energy efficiency will improve across the board.  The use of electric drivetrains will deliver the most efficient conversion of energy, particularly when paired with optimised control strategies for driving behavior.  And the emissions arising from transport energy will benefit from decarbonisation of the electricity powering the vehicles.  The cumulative effect will be to deliver emissions reductions for transport that outpace even those forecast by CSIRO researchers under a ‘deep decarbonisation’ scenario.

Transport will not be the only beneficiary.  The economics of renewables will benefit from managed charging of driverless electric vehicles.  In the United States, trials have shown that the primary use of an electric vehicle for transport hinders its secondary use for grid support.  But for a ‘robotaxi’ service, vehicle deployments and charging control strategies can be optimised to take advantage of the low costs of wind and solar.

Driverless vehicles are gaining momentum and Australian business is leading the way on some fronts. AGL recognises the benefits of driverless vehicles.  Through our efforts and those of the many others involved in the ADVI, we’re working to realise these benefits for Australia.

Kristian Handberg is part of the Electric Vehicle team at AGL New Energy    

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  • affablesolutions

    “this Saturday with Australia’s first demonstration of driverless vehicle technology on public roads. ” oops, may want to check your facts, for a start Volvo was doing a demo on public roads last week down in SA.