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Driverless vehicles a new reality
25 June 2018
The brave new world of driverless vehicles may appear the domain of the young and technically savvy, but older members of the community could be the first to benefit.
South Australia is at the forefront of autonomous vehicle testing in Australia and Roger van der Lee, Aurrigo Director of Autonomous Vehicles, believes we may start to see the first practical and economic benefits within a few short years.
Moving elderly people around large retirement villages and other areas could become one of the primary realities in the not-too-distant future.
"There's an immediate need in the retirement village and lifestyle village application," Roger says.
"These vehicles can be deployed to give people a new and higher degree of mobility that gets their social mobility increased by being able to get to the community centre or go and visit somebody else onsite - providing that first or last mile mobility service in essence."
UK-based Aurrigo set up a testing facility at the Tonsley Innovation District last year after receiving a $1 million grant from the South Australian Government’s $10 million Future Mobility Fund Lab, which is administered by the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure.
The four-person Aurrigo pods will be providing a ‘people and goods’ last-mile mobility service under the Main Assembly Building at Tonsley. It will be operational between the times of 9.00 am and 4.00pm on weekdays.
The current pods are designed as a platform that can be adapted to suit a range of possibilities, from automatically transporting components from point to point to adding more luxury shells with seating for passengers.
"There's also a commercial opportunity in terms of large warehouses or industrial situations," Roger says. "In the manufacturing sense, you could use this as a platform to mount robots to undertake tasks in an area that might be unfriendly from a health and safety point of view for a human."
These applications are an addition to the original purpose for the pods to provide a personal, on-demand transport service for first and last mile journeys integrated with the mainstream public transport infrastructure.
Roger says a key component of the testing phase is establishing trust within the wider community as it starts to peak into the world of autonomous vehicles.
"That will only be addressed by performance and track record and that's what these trials are all about,” he says.
“If we can take cars off the road and congestion is relieved, and people are getting to a destination where they want to go more easily and affordably, that's got to be a plus."
Aurrigo believes the need for autonomous vehicles is immediate, both in improving the way people live their lives and for companies looking to boost productivity.
The company recently received two new pods at Tonsley and has already issued plans to launch an assembly plant here before a move to sourcing components from Australia, essentially to build from scratch.
"We see Adelaide as the ideal location for serving the Asia Pacific market, all the way out to New Zealand and all the way north to China,” Roger says.
"If we can tap into those sorts of markets, the economies of scale could grow this industry very quickly here."