I’m ashamed to say that it has taken me two weeks to write about one of the highlights of my trip down under….I got to ride in a driverless shuttle in Perth, Australia! Earlier this year, the RAC (a private membership organization that, amongst other things, advocates for safer roads in Australia), in partnership with the State transportation agency, acquired a fully autonomous (driverless) electric shuttle through French manufacturer, NAVYA. Referred to as the Intellibus, this Level 4 automated vehicle is navigating a few kilometers of public roadway near the Perth waterfront. Today, with a waiting list of thousands of people, the RAC is allowing members of the general public to sign up as a volunteer to ride in the Intellibus.
Some of my impressions:
- This vehicle moves SLOWLY. I probably could have run faster than the Intellibus. That being said, the speed is slow on purpose. In addition to the fact that the RAC is testing the technology (and its reactions to obstacles), I would imagine that this is probably what the general public can handle at this point.
- The other people’s response to the experience was priceless. I watched one woman go from disbelief to amusement to an external processing of what her life could be like with a driverless vehicle. Another person grilled the “chaperone” (who was extremely well-versed in the technology and the industry) about how the technology works. The “chaperone” explained that he has also had riders clutching the seats out of fear. These interactions, to me, are what it’s all about: building public awareness and acceptance around the technology.
- The vehicle stopped very abruptly anytime anything appeared in its path. The vehicle was purposely programmed this way to maximize safety and minimize risks. Even if a cyclists was a few meters away, the vehicle stopped abruptly. This programmed “leeway” (or lack thereof) is an important consideration as these vehicles are introduced into our public roads.
- The pre- and post- ride surveys were fantastic. The RAC is getting some very early public data regarding public acceptance, public confusions, potential future applications, etc.
Bottom line: I was so impressed with the RAC and the driverless vehicle experience. The RAC staff spent many months navigating the all aspects of the procurement process, regulatory exceptions, liability requirements, public communications, partnering with the state government, and the list goes on. In my opinion, they are paving the way for both the public and private sector and I was thrilled to have this opportunity. Has anyone had any similar driverless vehicle experiences?