A driverless electric shuttle will start transporting Flinders University students and the public around Tonsley Innovation District this week as part of a five-year trial of autonomous vehicle technology set to encompass public roads in South Australia for the first time.
Funded by the State Government and industry partners, the Flinders Express (or ‘FLEX’) will initially provide ‘first and last mile’ shuttle services on roads within Tonsley, then connections to bus stops on South Road, Clovelly Park Train Station and businesses within the district.
Within a year the shuttle will run to the Flinders Medical Centre and the University’s Bedford Park campus before using main arterial roads around the entire Bedford Park precinct.
Flinders University Head of Civil Engineering Professor Rocco Zito says a mobile app will allow commuters arriving by traditional bus or train to book the driverless shuttle to take them to any destination within the innovation district.
“Demonstrations and trials of these driverless vehicles that involve the community are a really good way of building acceptance of this type of new technology,” Professor Zito says.
“Our aim is not to prove the technology but rather expose the public to this new type of transport service and learn from their responses and reactions to help driverless vehicles gain general acceptance.”
The three-stage, $4 million driverless shuttle project – for which Flinders University, the RAA and Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure have partnered with industry supporters Cohda Wireless, Renewal SA, SAGE Automation, Telstra, UPG, ZenEnergy and public transport operator Keolis Downer – has received $1 million from the State Government’s $10 million Future Mobility Lab Fund.
The French-designed Navya Arma electric shuttle can carry up to 15 passengers at speeds of up to 40 km per hour, but will travel up to 30 km per hour during the trial. FLEX will be managed by an on- board chaperone informing users of the technology and ensuring safety.
The SA Minister for Transport, the Hon Stephan Knoll, attended the official launch today and was one of the first people to have a ride on FLEX.
Members of the public can book a ride from Wednesday (June 20), with online bookings available via the Flinders University website in the near future.
“This research project is a perfect example of how universities, government and industry can collaborate to provide enhanced mobility services that can really make a difference to people’s lives,” Professor Zito says.
In one of Australia’s leading driverless projects, the vehicle will be docked within a six bay solar recharge garage to be constructed within two months near Tonsley’s Administration Building. The solar garage will also be available to the public wanting to recharge their own electric vehicles for free.