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Autonomous Vehicles

Australia Prepares for Automated Driving

The latest report from Austroads looks at the minimum physical infrastructure needed for automated driving. This is good news in part because Tesla CEO Elon Musk expects FSD will finally be ready at the end of this year, and my Tesla spends most of its time in the carport — not out on the roads earning money. One of the reasons we bought the Tesla was in the hope that one day it might provide passive income. The day may be coming closer.

Austroads is the peak organisation of Australasian road transport and traffic agencies. The Austroads board is made up of senior executives from the transport authorities of each Australian state and New Zealand. Its latest report provides guidance as to the transition from primarily human drivers to connected automated vehicles (CAV).

Recommendations for the short term (next 5 years) include increasing the interpretability of Traffic Control Devices (TCDs) — signs and traffic signals — for both current and emerging CAVs. There are still challenges to surmount “in the interpretation of speed warning signs and school zone signs and the visibility of traffic signals at intersections and pedestrian crossings.” Line markings need to improve so that they are easily discernible to the CAV sensors and processing technology.

Some improvements that appear valuable for supporting CAV uptake have a more challenging economic investment case — for example, the use of intelligent equipment and signs at temporary work zones. The report provides a great deal of detail regarding government investment to achieve their readiness goals.

In the future of driverless cars and trucks what facilities will be no longer needed, will need to be transformed and will need to be built? The report takes the position that uptake will begin after 2025 and won’t accelerate until 2030. One could speculate that a lot will depend on how fast the roads are prepared for use. Like the current EV transition, things may happen faster than expected if the infrastructure is provided.

The report highlights the difficulty of being prepared for a fast developing technology. This sort of predicting “is a complex and inexact science.” It will be difficult enough to prepare for what is already available, without the need to speculate on the next breakthrough. The investment advice is summarized in figure 4.1 below.

Image courtesy of Autoroads.

Although it is good to see government agencies working to prepare for the inevitable future, I believe that their projections are too conservative and that the changes will come much faster than is anticipated.

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David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].


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