Dubbo to host automated vehicle trial focused on kangaroo movements

TRIAL: At the announcement of the trial of the world's first driverless ute in Dubbo are Trystan Eeles, Troy Grant, Simon Berry, Ben Shields, Melinda Pavey, Geoff Ferris and Dugald Saunders. Photo: BELINDA SOOLE
TRIAL: At the announcement of the trial of the world's first driverless ute in Dubbo are Trystan Eeles, Troy Grant, Simon Berry, Ben Shields, Melinda Pavey, Geoff Ferris and Dugald Saunders. Photo: BELINDA SOOLE

What’s new, shiny, clever and driverless?

It’s the world’s first automated ute which is coming to Dubbo to collect data on kangaroo movements and show residents what NSW Roads Minister Melinda Pavey calls “the future of transport”.

Dubbo, Coffs Harbour and Armidale are the three regional NSW communities chosen to host automated vehicle trials.

The state government is spending $10 million across fours years introducing country people to driverless vehicles through trials.

Hopes are high that data collected by the trial in Dubbo will help prevent collisions between kangaroos and vehicles, automated or not.

Kangaroos wreaked havoc on NSW roads in 2018 with 16,000 crashes and two deaths recorded.

The government reports that current driverless technology is unable to react to the unpredictability of kangaroo movements.

Mrs Pavey came to Dubbo on Wednesday to announce the 12-month trial in the city.

It will kick off in about eight months when an “off-the-shelf” Toyota HiLux crew cab is retrofitted with automation technology with help from British company Conigital.

The automated ute will travel between Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo City Regional Airport and Dubbo’s central business district in all conditions and at all times.

Mrs Pavey is enthusiastic about tackling the “very,very complex and difficult question” of how to adjust the algorithms and data settings of automated vehicles to prevent collisions with kangaroos.

“Any information we collect will benefit all road users,” she said.

The minister said by late 2019 Dubbo motorists could be travelling in front or behind the automated ute which will have a “supervisor” in the passenger seat.

But the ute will be “driving itself” and collecting data, she said.

The ute will be recognised for its external features including sensors, logos of partners and automation branding.

Trial partners include Transport for NSW, Buslines, the NRMA and Dubbo Regional Council.

Mrs Pavey was joined by retiring state Member for Dubbo Troy Grant and The Nationals’ candidate for the seat Dugald Saunders along with representatives of the partners, among them Dubbo mayor Ben Shields.

Mr Grant is pleased that Dubbo has a part in the development of driverless technology which “will undoubtedly play a big role in shaping transport technology of the future”.

Mr Saunders said the Dubbo community knew all too well the threat posed by kangaroos on roads.

“Crashes involving kangaroos can be deadly,” he said.

“This trial will advance ways that cars of the future can detect and avoid collisions with the animals.”

Mayor Shields said the Dubbo region tended to be the “roo capital” of NSW and drivers had been left to “put up with it”.

“It seems to me we’ve got a state government now that’s actually taking it seriously through the use of  technology and really getting stuck into this issue,” he said.

Mrs Pavey said many people did not appreciate how much automation of vehicles could “change how we transport people, particularly in regional NSW”.

NRMA chief investment officer Rachel Wiseman said 94 per cent of crashes were caused by human error “so the increased use of autonomous vehicles will bring about tremendous change on our roads”.

“Most new cars on our roads are already semi-autonomous, so trials like this are crucial in preparing for the future of mobility in Australia,” she said.