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SA’s first driverless shuttle for public roads

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In the not too distant future the school bus could be rolling up without a driver and without any noise. Flinders University in SA is giving us a taste of what is to come with the launch of the driverless electric shuttle which will start transporting members of the public around the Tonsley Innovation District.

As part of a five-year trial, autonomous vehicle technology will arrive on public roads in South Australia for the first time.

The Flinders Express (or ‘FLEX’) will initially provide ‘first mile–last mile’ shuttle services between the nearby Clovelly Park Train Station and Tonsley’s Main Assembly Building (MAB), then connections to bus stops on the main South Road and businesses within the Tonsley precinct.

Within a year the shuttle will run to the Flinders Medical Centre and the University’s Bedford Park campus before using main arterial roads around the entire Bedford Park precinct.

Flinders University Head of Civil Engineering Professor Rocco Zito says commuters arriving by traditional bus or train to Tonsley can book a ride online at the Flinders website.

“Demonstrations and trials of these driverless vehicles that involve the community are a really good way of building acceptance of this type of new technology,” Prof Zito says.

“Our aim is not to prove the technology but rather expose the public to this new type of transport service and learn from their responses and reactions to help driverless vehicles gain general acceptance.”

The three-stage, $4 million driverless shuttle project – for which Flinders University, the RAA and Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) have partnered with industry supporters Cohda Wireless, Renewal SA, SAGE Automation, Telstra, UPG, ZenEnergy and public transport operator Keolis Downer – last year received $1 million from the State Government’s $10 million Future Mobility Lab Fund.

The French-designed Navya Arma electric shuttle can carry up to 15 passengers at speeds of up to 40 km per hour, but will travel up to 30 km per hour during the trial. FLEX will be managed by an on- board chaperone informing users of the technology and ensuring safety.

Members of the public can book a ride from Wednesday (June 20), with online bookings available via the Flinders University website.

“It’s all part of an awareness campaign to promote carbon neutral transport options in South Australia. In order for driverless vehicles to become an integral part of our transport system we need to trial these vehicles in real operating conditions and encourage public participation and feedback,” he says.

“This research project is a perfect example of how universities, government and industry can collaborate to provide enhanced mobility services that can really make a difference to people’s lives,” Professor Zito says.

The vehicle will be docked within a six bay solar recharge garage to be constructed within two months near the Mitsubishi Administration building. The solar garage will also be available to the public wanting to recharge their own electric vehicles for free.

Transport operator Keolis Downer is involved with the Flinders project, having collaborated on the Navya autonomous shuttle projects in Victoria and other cities around the world including Paris, Las Vegas, and Montreal.


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