WSP is contributing to the evolving global trend of automated vehicles and has been engaged by the RAC in Western Australia to undertake route assessments for their fully-automated driverless bus. 

The trial will assess how driverless buses, and automated vehicles in general, can be deployed onto local road networks in a staggered and safe manner. 

These works follow our regional role for Austroads, drafting guidance papers on the introduction of automated vehicles for road operators in Australia and New Zealand. Globally, WSP is encouraging public debate on automated vehicles and New Mobility.

The essential cycle of planning, design, construction and operation for infrastructure has not fundamentally changed since the post-war period. The project cycle for smaller, less complex projects in transport, water or power infrastructure typically takes place over a two-year window. For larger and more complex schemes, the cycle can be up to a couple of decades.

Many Possible Futures – Planning for Uncertainty 

Consider the impact of current or anticipated disruptive technology trends on our infrastructure networks. Much of the current debate focusses on the technology itself, and the immediate costs, benefits and risks it may present. 

When will battery technology become cost-effective enough for the domestic storage of rooftop solar energy? How will governments, councils, road operators, owners, manufacturers and the insurance industry address the legislative, safety and liability challenges presented by the operation of autonomous vehicles? 

The debate has merit, but we may be better advised to pursue a very different line of enquiry. An equally important discussion is yet to be aired around the potential disruptive impact of technology on the infrastructure planning cycle itself. 

What will the potential impact be, for example, when we combine the technology of fully autonomous electric vehicles with a service such as Uber?

Niche manufacturers such as Tesla already supply vehicles with a degree of autonomy in place. Other volume brands including Ford and Volvo are in a race to provide a fully autonomous, mass market passenger or freight vehicle by 2020 – hence the current focus from authorities and insurers. 

Underutilisation is the principal cause of inefficiency for private vehicles. A typical privately owned car in Australia spends only 3–6% of its time being driven (4-10 hours a week). It’s an enormously wasteful level of use for such a capital-intensive, depreciating asset. 

Future planning might see an autonomous, electric, Uber-like car spending 20 hours a day travelling around the city network, responding to a ride-hail system for pick up and drop off with minimal downtime for recharging and maintenance.

Wireless charging at stationary junctions and signals would provide an even greater utilisation rate of over 80%. pseudo-Ubers would master the algorithms and communications needed to perfect ridesharing. Autonomous carpooling would increase ride efficiency, particularly commuting rides, so multiple passengers could travel in a light vehicle without a driver. 

What impact will ride sharing technology have on public transport?