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ITS - the opportunity for Victoria

Smart roads that can deliver real-time data. 
Co-operative technologies that allow vehicles to connect to other vehicles, to infrastructure and to everything around them. 
A mind-blowing new transport system that could get us from Melbourne to Sydney in 55 minutes.  
These are some of the smart technologies currently under development in Victoria. 

On the back of hosting the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress late last year and with transport equipment being Victoria’s second largest manufacturing industry contributing $3.8B to the local economy, we’re at the tipping point for redefining mobility for future generations and Victoria wants in, aiming to make the home of the world’s most liveable city, more liveable.

In this event we explored:

  • The transport technologies emerging in Victoria
  • What makes Victoria an ideal testing ground?
  • Community & end user benefits – including congestion and safety
  • Challenges faced by the sector – including regulatory and safety

Panellists

Susan Harris – CEO, ITS Australia
Zac McClelland – Cofounder & Project Leader, VicHyper
Dr Anna Newberry – Driver Assistance Technologies, Ford Australia
Michael Caltabiano – CEO, ARRB

The Insights

Transport technologies currently emerging from Victoria

  • Eastlink project involves suite of partners to trial smart road applications. Telstra is trialling the 5G network as Eastlink allows cloud computing whilst driving which enables real time access to data. Ultimate aim is to allow users to plan their journey so they receive a departure time, entrance to freeway time and destination arrival time thereby creating a slot. This is next generation which will replace overhead gantry signs.   
  • Managed motorway networks operational in Melbourne means we get more vehicles per hour on our motorways than anywhere else in world. This technology is currently being rolled out in USA. Looking to take it to next level as we have more connected cars on roads.
  • Intelematics (part of RACV network) collect data on traffic levels and on sell to publishers (like Google, Samsung, etc) to push out to their end users. Now provide this service globally

Hyperloop – what is it?

At SpaceX in late January the first trials were conducted using pods designed from competition entrants around the world. Three teams had the opportunity to complete full vacuum tests. Although they’ve only been developing the pods for 12 months, they have already reached the ability to move at 100km/hr – same speed as the train which has been over 100 years in development. Funding and support are required to progress development, particularly to build the infrastructure required. It is anticipated there will be a full speed test (1,200km/hr) made late in 2017 and Dubai have signed up to implement Hyperloop by 2020.

The technology is viewed as much more energy efficient as the pods operate in a vacuum using levitation and they coast for about 90% of the journey duration. It’s predicted it will be solar powered if the tube network sits above ground, however there is much discussion about it being placed underground, partially due to safety concerns. Considerable power is required to accelerate the pods initially.

Where do we have a competitive advantage in developing ITS technology?

We have a great culture and network that enables some of these leading technologies to be developed in Victoria. A strong advantage we have over Europe and USA is less complexities in getting multiple jurisdictions to agree on an outcome. There is a general goodwill within Australia about moving towards a standardised position. At the ITS World Congress in 2016 there were 20,000 people in Melbourne discussing transport technology. Some of the outcomes from the event include ITS members that previously only had a local market, now having access to and demand from a global market. These, mostly SMEs have identified they’ve been able to undertake world leading developments here in Australia that are attractive to those globally. Research is also world leading particularly in cyber security and big data management. We have had a government that has been waiting for others to lead but they’ve now recognised that we’re really well positioned here in Australia which has given a new confidence to committing to transport technology. Since then there’s been a roll out of additional trials and increased engagement from government to partner with industry to fund some of these activities. We also have a huge amount of space and expertise that is coming out of universities – particularly around Hyperloop which Tesla is taking. We’ve got the space and people movement. The automotive industry is a global business – cars get shipped all around the world. Australia is in a unique position as we sit on a number of harmonisation committees across Europe and USA and we’re able to be an honest broker between all these players which provides different perspectives. We’re considered neutral ground for trials.

What impact is congestion having on us in Victoria?

In Melbourne we’ve gone from 1.3 people per car in peak hour to 1.1. Two in three Australians have changed their working habits to deal with congestion in past 5 years. 50% are driving less – working from home, using public transport or walking and cycling. The big discrepancy is in demographics. Gen Y have ditched the car. Older generations choose to drive earlier or later and extended their working hours to beat peak hour. We still need to encourage segments of society to travel together in groups. What signals could we explore to encourage this?

Driverless is viewed as ‘personal public transport’. By creating driverless vehicles as pods of 3 or 4. In WA there’s a driverless shuttle bus travelling at 30km p/hr being trialled to stop and pick people up.   It was announced today that bus contracts are about to change for the better. The bus industry has been frustrated by an inability to shift routes in line with changes in demand, such as the development of new shopping centres, and doesn’t want to end up disrupted like the taxi industry. This could lead to a new model moving forward – possibly additional smaller buses, that enable greater mobility. This move is about disruption and challenging incumbent players. The industry in general is requesting change but it will be a challenge when the industry has been so stable. What work is being done to improve our Intermodal transport system? There’s a study taking place in Sydney to look at the movement of people (as opposed to vehicles), to understand the flow of people across different modes.

The view is that this will feed into the network to make it more aligned as far as connecting trains to buses, etc. The power of big data and connectivity should mean this becomes more seamless thereby broadening the appeal of public transport. The opportunity exists to broaden the offer on public transport. People are freed up – why not provide them the chance to leverage this by taking a class?

Would micropayments help relieve congestion?

Policymakers currently aren’t well enough informed about this option. There are currently 20% of journey’s in morning peak that are non-essential. If we took out 10% - there would be no congestion. Pricing is just one mechanism to do this, it needs to be a holistic approach.

Are we ready to adopt ITS? What work is being done to get us socially ready?

VicRoads and the Victorian State Government are the most engaged agencies in Australia. They’re actively looking to understand how people in inner, middle and outer Melbourne make decisions about accessing our transport system, including the human factors driving those decisions such as access, time, quality and family. The work currently being done to understand this will be longitudinal because as society changes so will the demand on the transport system. In Victoria we’re looking to move away from rules based logic and more to fuzzy logic reflecting human behaviours.

Work within the freight industry, like many others will also be impacted by the trend towards AI and autonomy with potential job losses though the driver is considered more than just a driver - they’re also a customer service rep. The trucking industry is already experiencing a lack of drivers as it’s an ageing workforce.

We need to envisage an adapted, connected future, not focus solely on roads. What connectivity does the community want – not what access to the road network do they want.  

Developments in terms of powering transport

The US already has induction loops where buses pull off into bays and can wirelessly charge their battery. Induction makes sense for vehicles like buses that travel the same loop where these induction plates can be built into the roads.

What’s the timeline for the transition to and adoption of autonomous vehicles?

People are only just starting to envisage what it will look like to not have to drive. Resistance is starting to fall as autonomous elements are slowly introduced into vehicles we now purchase – such as collision warnings – and users are beginning to trust them. One of the largest barriers remains liability particularly for full autonomy models. There’s also a question of how good is good enough? For example, if an autonomous feature means 3 out 4 potential accidents are avoided is that an acceptable number?

Professor Hugh Bradlow, Telstra’s Chief Scientist says in 2030 he sees a driverless future.

What changes are happening to infrastructure to support ITS?

Colas, the French world leader in road construction, launched solar roads in 2015.  At only 2mm thick they’re embedded into the road’s surface. Just 1km of solar road can generate power for 5,000 homes. France has invested $1b to build 1,000km of road which will generate power for 5 million people. It’s in pilot stage and will develop to a mature investment within 5 years. If 10% of the worlds roads were solar enabled, we would solve the power problems of the world.

At Nottingham University they’re embedding asphalt in top 50mm of their roads with particles so that when you drive an electro-magnetic force over the top it restores any cracking in the surface of the pavement to restore the pavement for 20 years.   A project at the Monash University Nanotechnology Centre of Excellence is currently challenging researchers to incorporate nano-particles into bitumen so we can form a grid that a car can read across the road. This will then inform the vehicle when there’s a break in the grid such as a crack in the pavement. This technology will also be able to inform how many vehicles are ahead, what the queuing list is, which lane to be in, etc.

The private sector is highly engaged and looking for these opportunities, particularly overseas. For example, Wilson’s Parking are actively looking for their next generation of car parks to be constructed without interior columns. They’re already preparing for the scenario of stacking driverless car. They’re considering this in their real estate acquisitions for 2016-17 that won’t come into effect until 2025.

Are we band-aiding current infrastructure when we should be thinking in terms of distributed transport?

We are still approving billion dollar projects that extend the life of our same roads and modes of transport for another 20 years. We need a fundamental shift in how we work with transport systems that are already on the drawing board and need to shift our mode of thinking about how we move around. In Australia $20b is spent in constructing roads every year. The national road network is valued at $250b yet we only invest $63m in research. This is nowhere near the investment required and also why there’s not much first principles work going on in Australia. The investment in research needs to be at least $263m according to ARRB, otherwise next generation technologies will be sitting at the station and we won’t be able to enable them.  

We are currently building new roads with cabling in them and whilst that’s not being used now, it is ready to turn on for connected vehicles. On rural roads there’s a strong push for road safety (i.e. reducing risk of vehicles running off roads) that involves erecting more barriers and removing more trees.  We’re on the verge of having vehicles that can detect these trees – are we really making the right decisions?

The Netherlands have made the call not to erect any more variable message signs. At $500K per sign they’re considered too expensive. Instead they will broadcast messages directly into the vehicle.

What connectivity is required?

It doesn’t matter if a wifi network goes down. Connected vehicles now upload data plan of where they’re going. The network is data cloud mapped so cars don’t necessarily require to be connected in an autonomous scenario to drive. The challenge is that it’s mapped at a particular point in time so we need to leverage infrastructure to capture real data. We need to push for improved data and wifi networks and not just within capital cities. This will be necessary for a range of technologies we want to roll out and will be a challenge for Australia.

According to Elon Musk we live in a three dimensional city but drive home on a two dimensional road which isn’t good enough. He is working to speed up tunnelling technology including connectivity.

What about liability issues?

Insurers including Suncorp, IAG and Zurich are actively involved in discussions around driverless initiatives as they want resolve the issue of liability. They want the IP from people delivering driverless technology so they can understand what it means. Who is driving, what do I insure, who do I insure? They don’t have any answers yet and need greater access to demonstration opportunities.

Are regulators keeping up?

Complex policy making decisions are required to deal with issues arising from ITS including:

  • Who gets access – when and why?
  • Who pays – when and why?

The policy making that is currently happening in Australia is highly respected internationally. Our governments have been ahead of curve at looking at barriers to automated vehicles and the policy making implications of connected vehicles. The Federal Government has committed as part of updated National Policy Framework, to put together roadmap of infrastructure for connected vehicle technology within next 12 months.

At end of March ARRB are presenting to all State and Federal Ministers to enliven them as to the opportunities of the future and to make clear that there is a role for policy makers and that they need to seize that role.

Policy adaptability after infrastructure adaptability is next major challenge in move towards ITS. Public policy typically lags in relation to technology and ITS is no different. Policy makers have realised they need to catch up but are not well informed yet because we don’t have the research background to inform them about what policy options they should be considering. In the next five years we will see a convergence between research, practical building and policy.

Regulators are failing in keeping up with the growing trend in motorised personal mobility devices including hoverboards, skateboards and bikes which have the potential to alleviate urban congestion. There’s about to be an explosion of these devices hitting the market and government needs to understand why people are turning to them. They need to examine whether an infrastructure need arises from these activities to separate them from pedestrians. They’re not highly engaged in this space.

What about asking the bigger picture questions, such as….

  • Will there be heightened congestion as people leave public transport to use personal transport?
  • Who pays? On what basis? Within a decade fuel excise will be halved
  • Who insures? On what basis?
  • Who sets the rules?
  • How do autonomous and self-driving vehicles operate alongside vehicles with drivers during the transition period?
  • What does it mean for transport sector i.e. platooning?
  • What does it mean for road construction?

Should we be rethinking our cities to create hubs and grow regional centres?

The consensus is that these don’t work. People want to come into the CBD to be together. The complexity of hubs can be messy. For example, in Delhi the city was too old, so they built a new city and then a third city. They found getting people around on the transport system was incredibly complicated. Economists talk about decentralisation but it doesn’t look to be a real trend.

Are we focused on moving cars or moving people?

What does mobility actually mean to people? It’s not about cars per se, but that the car is an enabler.

Why are we moving – do we even need to be moving?

Maybe virtual reality is the future and we won’t all need to sit in the room together!

What will be the biggest development in ITS in the short term?

We will be building roads differently in 5 years to how we construct them today. They will be far more technology enabled.

We will be better informed and have real time journeys that dictate when we leave, what route we take and what vehicle we operate. These will be synchronised without gantries. Big data and connectivity will drive this with huge developments already taking place in the quantity of data demanded and the formats it’s requested in.

Better outcomes can be obtained in the short term without changing infrastructure.   These improvements coupled with changes in payment systems such as blockchain and payments for journeys could see our transport systems change quickly.  

Drones will also become huge once regulations catch up.

What needs to change right now for us to move forward in adopting ITS?

We require surety of funding for infrastructure moving forward and an appropriate pricing mechanism that is linked to security of funding. We currently don’t have an independent long term plan that enables us to put in place the building blocks for moving forward.

Community engagement is also required. Taking the community on the journey in an intelligent, informed way so that policymakers don’t get sucked into the wrong solution. Without coherent, community led direction we’ll end up with railway lines of 19th century.

We need to each examine our own behaviour around how we use transport modes. There needs to be greater encouragement of utilising public transport and changing the mindset of the solo person commuting by car in peak hour.