Transportation, like many industries across the world, has changed greatly thanks to advancements in technology; travelling on services like Excellence Coaches are now safer and more convenient than ever, thanks to aids like assisted braking, and the like.
The next major development being considered for transportation is automation, with autonomous vehicles being discussed, developed, and tested. One of the latest on the wagon is Australia’s City of Newcastle, which started trials for a new driverless shuttle model earlier in July 2020, funded via a $5m grant from the government’s Smart Cities and Suburbs Programme.
The autonomous shuttle being used was developed by Navya, and operated by Keolis Downer, transportation operations company Keolis’ Australian subsidiary.
The shuttle operated along Newcastle’s Wharf Road, travelling at a speed of 20km/hr. The shuttle made round trips between Watt Street and Nobby’s Beach on weekdays from 10 am to 2 pm, providing people with a tour of the city, similar to what a shuttle service like Excellence Coaches offers, and then connecting them to Newcastle’s public transportation system.
The shuttle model that was used for the trials underwent multiple safety tests before being cleared to operate on public roadways. A chaperone was also on board to ensure that things ran smoothly, provide information to passengers, and take over in case of an emergency.
Keolis Downer CEO David Franks issued a statement on the matter, saying that they’re excited to see the shuttle driving down roads alongside other vehicles and that they’re delighted with their partnership with the City of Newcastle. They hope to gain more insight into automation technology for vehicles and encouraged people to ride the new shuttle and offer feedback.
They added that Keolis Downer is looking to deploy autonomous vehicle technology around Australia, so they can better learn what autonomous shuttles can do for people’s transportation needs.
The trials ran from July to October 2020, with the necessary precautions like additional cleaning, automatic doors, and limiting passengers, to account for the COVID-19 pandemic. The trial in Newcastle was preceded by trials in Melbourne’s La Trobe University, Adelaide’s Flinders University, and the Sydney Olympic Park.