Ro­bot cars to rule road

The Sunday Times - - NEWS - TREVOR PADDENBURG

THE rise of the ma­chines is here, with self-driv­ing cars to hit Perth roads in the next few years and au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles to out­num­ber con­ven­tional cars within three decades.

And they’ll slash the road toll while also bust­ing con­ges­tion and al­low­ing speed lim­its to be raised.

That’s the prediction of one of the world’s lead­ing road safety ex­perts, Sil­i­con Val­ley-based Mark Rosekind, who is the key­note speaker at the Aus­tralasian Road Safety Con­fer­ence start­ing at Crown Perth on Tues­day.

“Science fic­tion is be­com­ing re­al­ity. We are in a mo­bil­ity revo­lu­tion — the most trans­for­ma­tive pe­riod in trans­porta­tion in the last 100 years. It’s like the horse and buggy to the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine,” said Dr Rosekind, who led re­form in the US na­tional transport depart­ment un­der Barack Obama be­fore be­ing head-hunted to be the chief safety in­no­va­tion of­fi­cer for cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy com­pany Zoox.

Zoox, now val­ued at $1.5 bil­lion, is at the fore­front of de­vel­op­ing self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles us­ing ro­bot­ics and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence.

Dr Rosekind said the next gen­er­a­tion of self-driv­ing cars would al­low “driv­ers” to eat a meal, sleep or read dur­ing a trip.

Cars would “talk to each other” and cut con­ges­tion be­cause they would travel at much higher speeds and travel very close to each other with­out the risk of a crash.

“We will see fully self­driv­ing cars on the road in the next cou­ple of years and en­tire coun­tries or cities (us­ing them) in 20-30 years,” Dr Rosekind said, adding that Perth would likely be one of them.

As well as re­duc­ing con­ges­tion, au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles would save lives, he said.

It is a topic close to his heart, af­ter his fa­ther, a San Fran­cisco mo­tor­cy­cle po­lice­man, was killed in the line of duty by a driver who ran a red light.

“Ninety-four per cent of crashes are be­cause of some kind of hu­man choice or er­ror. Self-driv­ing cars will not speed or get drunk or get drowsy or make bad de­ci­sions,” he said.

“Too many lives are be­ing lost. Too many peo­ple are be­ing hurt. The road toll is a global epi­demic and the num­bers are go­ing up.”

But he said au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles were not a road safety “magic bul­let” and “we can­not give up tried and true safety mea­sures like strong laws, ed­u­ca­tion or vis­i­ble en­force­ment”.

Gen­eral Mo­tors' di­rec­tor of au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle in­te­gra­tion Scott Miller said this week that self-driv­ing cars were about 10 to 15 years away.

But he said GM was aim­ing to have a fleet of self-driv­ing ride-share cars to com­pete with Uber and taxis within the next year or two.

More than 600 del­e­gates will at­tend the three-day safety con­fer­ence.

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