Call for road improvements to allow driverless freight

28 June 2021

A trade body representing driverless vehicles in Australia has called for infrastructure improvements to enable the technology to deliver freight.

Rita Excell, executive director at Australia New Zealand Driverless Vehicle (ADVI), said a trial that recently took place in the US where a driverless delivery truck travelled more than 1,500km would not be possible in Australia because of a lack of the right infrastructure.

In the US trial truck company TuSimple transported a load of watermelons without human intervention.

Excell said TuSimple came to Australia in 2019 to look at possible opportunities but the country was unprepared for automated road freight haulage, apart from certain areas of Eastern states.

This is despite Australia being a world leader in the use of unmanned heavy vehicles in the mining sector.

“If you look at the roads internationally, where this technology is being applied, they are divided carriageways with multiple lanes,” said Excell.

“We’re really keen to see an agenda to improve the standard of our roads, particularly the National Highway.”

She welcomed a programme to extend the Princes Highway – a major road crossing southern Australia from Sydney to Adelaide – towards the West.

Excell said line markings and telecommunications needed to improve, especially in regional and rural areas. Lines needed to be widened to a minimum of 3.5-3.8 metres – far from existing specifications.

Safety features on automated vehicles such as digital 3D road network plotting platforms, cameras, radars, maps and GPS needed good communications networks to function, she added.

“There is lifesaving technology on vehicles like trucks that are sold today that can’t operate because of our deficient infrastructure in regional areas,” she said.  

In 2019 Rio Tinto rolled out of its automated rail network in Pilbara, Western Australia, which it believed was the world’s first fully autonomous, long-distance, heavy-haul rail network.

Rio Tinto claimed the 1,700km AutoHaul network operated the world’s largest and longest robots.

Automated trains shift iron ore between 15 mines and four port terminals.

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