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New research suggests a connected vehicle future within Australia could be closer than ever, but there might be several teething problems along the way.

Recent trials by Transurban on Melbourne and Sydney roads saw partially connected and automated vehicles (CAVs) tested for their abilities to react to a variety of driving conditions.

The tests looked at how the vehicles responded to electronic and static signs, roadworks and other moving and stationary objects. Ultimately the project highlighted that while the autonomous technology has arrived – or has almost arrived – a successful changeover period could take decades.

“While the timeline to full automation is hotly debated, the transition phase could last up to 20 years,” the company said in their report.

“It is important for road operators to understand the benefits and limitations of automated vehicles, including the impacts on infrastructure operation and maintenance.

Autonomous vehicles that can also communicate with other road users present a variety of potential road improvements, particularly in large cities like Melbourne and Sydney where congestion in peak periods is an ongoing headache for motorists.

The overwhelming thought is that connected transport technology has real potential to help ease the burden – on road networks – improving traffic flow, safety and reducing delays on our roads.

Transurban said it was important that the trials were comprehensive and took into account the opinions and needs of the community.

“As a first step to preparing our roads for a CAV-driven future, Transurban is running a series of trials on motorways and to investigate how they respond to road infrastructure (such as signs, lines, signals and ramps),” the company said.

“We’ve also been talking to people about CAVs and getting a sense of community attitudes towards the arrival and use of CAVs.”

Melbourne’s Tullamarine Freeway, where a large portion of the vehicle trials took place

On-Road Findings

The data from the Victorian CAV tests brought back a variety of positive but also concerning findings. While the vehicles reacted strongly in best case scenario situations – when roadworks, electronic sign or road line gaps came into play the vehicles struggled somewhat in their overall performance.

Below are a summary of the results from a variety of tests that largely occurred on the CityLink sections of Melbourne’s Tullamarine Freeway.

  • Electronic Signs: Electronic speed signs were challenging for some vehicles with signs on tunnel walls rarely read correctly. Flashing signs were read more reliably than other electronic signs.
  • Statics: Some static speed limit signs on adjacent exit ramps were read by vehicles travelling on the main motorway.
  • Roadworks: Yellow lines were generally read well. White lines near yellow lines disrupted lane keeping.
  • Other Objects: Stopped/merging vehicles were not always detected.
  • Sound Tube: CityLink’s Sound Tube disrupted lane keeping and a vehicle’s ability to determine speed limits.
  • Toll point: Lane-keeping was disengaged by gaps in line markings under toll points.
  • Line markings: Lane-keeping was sometimes disengaged when line markings changed.
  • Exit Ramps: Some vehicles followed solid line markings up exit ramps leading vehicles off the motorway, while stationary vehicles at the end of exit ramps were not always detected.

A Commitment To Safety

The company’s Senior Product Manager Tim Oldmeadow said the ultimate goal for the vehicles was to improve safety.

“I think CAVs will impact Transurban’s business in the long term very positivitely, as well as society in general,” Transurban’s Senior Product Manager Tim Oldmeadow said.

“For Transurban’s business, the automated features of the CAVs will really help with safety.”

We don’t know when the vast majority of cars on our roads will be CAVs – this timeline is still hotly debated. But we do know CAVs are coming – and we also know we need to be ready.

The video below details how the vehicle trials have been undertaken and what Transurban is hoping to achieve in the long term:

The full research report from Transurban is available to read here.