Australian universities to participate in autonomous vehicle ‘handover’ trials


Researchers from two leading Australian universities will play a role in a world-first project aimed at improving the safety of driverless vehicles and accelerating their development.

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government has partnered with Seeing Machines, a Canberra-based company specializing in face and eye tracking technology, to gather information on the connection between driver behavior and driverless vehicles. The A$1.35m (US$1m) trial will look specifically at when drivers of autonomous cars take full control again, for example, when exiting highways or when road conditions change. Little is currently known about the transition from autonomous driving to regaining control of a vehicle, including the length of time it takes a person to regain their focus.

The University of Canberra (UC) and the Australian National University (ANU) will contribute to the joint initiative, with researchers from UC assessing the potential health and social impacts of automated vehicles, while ANU will contribute research around data analytics and computer vision. Up to 40 Canberra citizens will be recruited for the trial, with participants given an autonomous car to drive for two weeks at a time. Face-tracking technology will be used to read their reactions to determine how quickly a driver can take control of the car. The data collected during the trials will help improve technology to make driverless vehicles safer and assist governments to create laws around their use.

“Community perceptions of autonomous vehicles are mixed and our researchers will be working to better understand public attitudes. Automated vehicles elicit a variety of reactions from people; some hold positive opinions, while others are quite worried about them being on the road,” noted UC’s director of innovation and strategic initiatives, Dr Victor Pantano.

“The research we’re going to be undertaking will help us to better understand peoples’ perceptions and the reasons behind them, so we can develop strategies to get people feeling more comfortable about the use of automated vehicles in our community.”

ACT Government local industry advocate Kate Lundy, who will chair the committee set up to oversee the trial, said, “The universities will develop research projects and work with Seeing Machines to add even more value to the trial.

“This presents an example of a smart city, where our universities collaborate with our smartest companies to add enormous social and economic value to an area of new technology that in some way will impact every single one of us as time goes on.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).