A parliamentary enquiry has called on the Federal Government to facilitate and encourage trials of automated vehicles on public roads to help with public acceptance of the technology, and for the National Cyber Security Strategy to investigate the vulnerabilities of automated vehicles.

Those calls topped a list of 10 recommendations for actions needed to pave the way for the appearance of increasingly autonomous vehicles on Australia’s road. They come from the House of Representatives Industry, Innovations, Science and Resources Committee, which has tabled its report into the social issues relating to land-based driverless vehicles in Australia.

The enquiry’s report Social issues relating to land-based automated vehicles in Australia also said that public engagement would be vital if the expected benefits of automated vehicles were to be realised in Australia.

It has also recommended that the terms ‘driverless’ and ‘autonomous’ be abandoned in favour of ‘automated’, saying there is a spectrum of automation and different policy issues will be raised as technology develops along that spectrum.

It recommends adopting the Society of Automotive Engineers’ (SAE) International Standard J3016 as the standard definition saying it has already been adopted by authorities in Australia, Europe and the USA.

The terms of reference of the enquiry required it to focus on “the social issues relating to land-based driverless vehicles in Australia,” and with “non-social aspects … such as regulatory status, infrastructure, technological readiness, data management and cyber security issues.”

It was also required to assess “the potential impacts on employment and different industry sectors (such as the taxi industry).” There was little consideration of the wider impacts of increasingly automated vehicles on industry and commerce.

The enquiry did, however, make a recommendation that the Commonwealth Government establish a working party with industry and academic stakeholders “to identify industry needs regarding the development of automated vehicles and support services, and implement a strategy to ensure that Australia is best placed to exploit emerging opportunities.”

The 10 recommendations

The report recommends that the Federal Government:

  1. Adopt the term ‘automated’ and the definition for the automation level of vehicles used by the SAE International Standard J3016
  2. Facilitate and encourage trials of automated vehicles, particularly by members of the public on public roads
  3. Investigate the issue of data rights for consumers, vehicle manufacturers and third parties such as insurers and relevant government agencies
  4. Charge the National Cyber Security Strategy with investigating potential vulnerabilities of automated vehicles
  5. Establish a working party with industry and academic stakeholders to identify industry needs regarding the development of automated vehicles and support services, and implement a strategy to ensure that Australia is best placed to exploit emerging opportunities
  6. Consider how the needs of people with disability, older Australians and those in regional and rural areas can be met via automated vehicles
  7. Consider funding (with state and local governments) trials of automated vehicles for public transport, in both metropolitan areas and regional locations
  8. Coordinate (in consultation with state and local governments) its approach to automated vehicles, ensuring consistent regulations and policy settings
  9. Coordinate efforts to standardise road infrastructure in Australia, particularly as it relates to signs and road markings, and consider ways to ensure that the benefits of automated vehicles are available across Australia, including in regional Australia
  10. Consider establishing either a dedicated national body or a cross-agency taskforce (in conjunction with state governments and vehicle and software manufacturers) to coordinate the introduction of automated vehicles.

This body would consider wide-ranging issues, such as legal liability, insurance implications and employment ramifications of automated vehicles.

Agriculture tipped to be lead adopter of automated vehicles

Publication of the committee’s report coincides with a report from UK based research firm IDTechEx, Agricultural Robots and Drones 2017-2027: Technologies, Markets, Players in which it argues that agriculture is leading the take-up of autonomous driving technology despite all the hype around driverless cars.

It argues that agriculture is well suited to autonomous mobility. “Farms are semi-structured, sparsely-populated environments and are thus simpler to autonomise than general driving on congested roads. There is also commercial incentive: reducing the wage bill.”

It says the technology is evolving rapidly towards full autonomy. “Master-and-slave (or follow-me) systems are being trialled, enabling one driver to guide a fleet, thus boosting the driver’s productivity. Next will come manned yet fully autonomous tractors (level 5). This has already been technologically demonstrated.”

It says the next stage could be unmanned autonomous tractors, which, it says, have already been demonstrated.