Obscurity looms for Australia after driverless index slip, claims peak body

Nation running “real risk of global embarrassment” in autonomous vehicle stakes, says ADVI

Australia has dropped a place in a global ranking of nations’ readiness for autonomous vehicles, an outcome industry body the Australia and New Zealand Driverless Vehicle Initiative (ADVI) says “should sound warning bells”.

KPMG published its second annual Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index (AVRI) today, ranking Australia in 15th position globally based on a number of measures such as policy, infrastructure, consumer acceptance and technology.

The result prompted ADVI to warn of a “real risk of global embarrassment” for the country, in a statement today.

The drop from 14th position – in part due to the higher ranking of Israel, Finland and Norway which didn’t appear in last year’s report – was “unacceptable” the body said.

“In a short space of time Australia has gone from being on the international radar as a leader, to a country that risks being marginalised as it slips further into autonomous vehicle (AV) obscurity. Now is the time for leadership and positive action to address these concerns,” said ADVI executive director, Rita Excell.

She added that “sitting on the sidelines waiting for an economic boom to come to Australia is likely to see further slipping behind the rest of the world and important economic and safety opportunities missed.”

Despite the scathing statement, Australia fared well in a number of metrics. It was in the top five nations for ‘regulations supportive of AV use’, and availability of high performance mobile internet. There was a significant improvement from 2018 in the country’s infrastructure score.

The index pointed to a number of positive legislation from state governments including New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland and Victoria. In May last year Australia’s transport ministers agreed to take a uniform legal approach across states and territories to vehicles equipped with automated driving systems.

In October 2018, the federal government established the Office for Future Transport Technologies, a $9.7 million initiative to unify the states’ and territories’ governments in delivering future transport technologies in a safe manner.

There have also been a multitude of autonomous shuttle tests approved and executed in a number of cities.

“Australia needs to broaden well beyond the current focus on short-term driverless shuttle deployments. In the US, it is now a decade since Google first launched its self-driving car project. In late 2018 we saw Waymo officially start its commercial deployment of a self-driving car service in Phoenix. Smaller start-ups like May Mobility and Drive.ai have moved beyond deployment trials and are now running revenue-generating shuttle services,” Excell said.

It is predicted that autonomous vehicles will represent a US$7 trillion global opportunity in 2050, something ADVI – which has more than 120 partner organisations across a number of associated sectors – called “the 21st-century gold rush”.

“While Australia is making progress, there are a number of opportunities for the effective integration of AVs,” said Praveen Thakur, partner, transport and infrastructure, KPMG Australia.

“These include implementing recommendations for infrastructure and addressing consumer sentiment and concerns. More generally, as electric vehicles and AVs become more ubiquitous, greater focus is needed on energy policy and road pricing as governments seek to deal with new energy demand patterns and replace revenues as traditional fuel consumption is reduced,” Thakur added.

Asleep at the wheel

The Netherlands and Singapore retained their respective first and second spots, “the former benefiting from its European leadership in transport public policy, the latter from its brilliance in attracting investment from global technology leaders,” the KPMG reports said.

The Netherlands government recently revealed a plan to launch platoons of more than 100 driverless trucks on major ‘tulip corridor’ routes from Amsterdam to Antwerp and Rotterdam to the Ruhr valley. The Singapore government with Nanyang Technological University in 2017 built a fake city complete with bus stops, traffic lights, skyscrapers, hills and a rain-making machine to allow for realistic driverless vehicle testing.

New entrant Norway pushed the US into fourth place in the ranking and Sweden into fifth.

“If Australia stays asleep at the wheel for much longer we can wave goodbye to securing our fair share of [the economic value of the driverless sector] on offer. We have already seen the end of vehicle manufacturing in this country, and the fast-moving AV tech sector can go a long way to filling that gap left behind – but Australia must stop sitting on its hands and waiting for others to first make a move,” Excell said.

“Now is the time to broaden our focus beyond the US and UK and have a more meaningful look at some of the market-leading developments right on our doorstep – in particular Singapore, which emerged as second in world and first in Asia in its readiness to adopt driverless cars,” she added. 

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