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Shining the spotlight on autonomous vehicles: the driverless future

5 August 2018
Are autonomous vehicles the future?
Research by the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies on autonomous vehicle technology is addressing key questions around their potential impacts on the community.

The Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies at the University of Sydney Business School is undertaking cutting-edge research on autonomous vehicle (AV) technology addressing key questions around their potential impacts on the movement of both people and goods and broader society.

Proponents of AVs paint a picture where fleets of interconnected, emissions-free driverless vehicles are summoned by an app, providing a service that safely chauffeurs workers to the office, kids to school, mobility-impaired to the grocery store, and families to the beach leaving occupants free to catch up on work, their favourite movie or sleep. Groceries and the latest "must-have" consumer products are delivered by drones, driverless trains and trucks. The road toll is negligible, in the wake of removing the 90% of accidents attributed to human error on Australian roads.

However, is this utopic vision a pipe-dream as we uncover more about the realities of this technology and how it might manifest in today’s increasingly complex world? Will the safety benefits be as dramatic as claimed? Will consumers embrace this technology and how will vehicle ownership and use change as a consequence? Will congestion be alleviated or will it worsen? How will this impact mobility and the social connectedness of groups disadvantaged by current transportation systems? Will it free up space in our cities as parking requirements change or simply shift the problem elsewhere? What are the implications for public transport, cycling and walking? What about ethical issues, job loss and other broader issues associated with the rise of the machine?

Several Institute staff are tackling these questions around AVs, including Professor Michiel Bliemer, Professor Michael Bell, Associate Professor Matthew Beck, Dr Andrew Collins, Professor Stephen Greaves, and the Institute's Director, Professor David Hensher.

This research effort involves a wide range of industry partners including Transport for NSW and academic partners at QUT, UNSW, and UWA. Researchers from the Institute are also involved in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology’s Centre for Robotics and Intelligence Systems where AVs are an important focus topic.

Recent research suggests Australian consumers are highly polarised when it comes to AVs with around one-third who are optimistic about this technology, one-quarter who are sceptical and the remainder simply unsure. In common with many other countries grappling with this technology, it seems the concerns around AVs such as potential for hacking, liability, and perhaps ironically, safety seem to weigh stronger on our minds than the potential benefits suggesting we have a long way to go to convince the Australian consumer this is the way to go.

The Institute is also investigating the benefits of driverless buses which will reduce costs and provide an important competitive edge when trying to compete with low cost driverless car-sharing futures.

Related research


Hensher DA 2018 'Tackling road congestion – What might it look like in the future under a collaborative and connected mobility model?', Transport Policy, vol.66, pp. A1-A8.

This paper questions the extent to which AVs will reduce traffic congestion in cities. Specifically, the research focuses on the importance of moving to a culture of sharing rather than private asset ownership where AVs are not available to others. There is a risk of increased congestion if cars are not shared with driverless cars repositioning with no occupants.

Sun Y, Olaru D, Smith B, Greaves SP and Collins AT 2017 'Road to autonomous vehicles in Australia: an exploratory literature review'Road and Transport Research, vol.26:1, pp. 34-47.


Greaves SP, Smith B, Arnold T, Olaru D, and Collins AT 2018 'Autonomous Vehicles Down Under: An Empirical Investigation of Consumer Sentiment'. Australasian Transport Research Forum 2018 Proceedings.

ARC Linkage Grant: Understanding the impact of autonomous vehicles on behaviour and interactions

Professor Michiel Bliemer, together with colleagues from UNSW and QUT, and several industry partners, is undertaking an ARC Linkage Project grant on 'Understanding impact of autonomous vehicles on behaviour and interactions'. Michiel's co-investigators are: Dr Vinayak Dixit, Professor Steven Waller and Dr Steven Most (UNSW); Professor Andry Rakotonirainy (QUT); Professor Michael Regan (ARRB Group Ltd); Carl Liersch (Robert Bosch (Australia); Benjamin Barnes; and Victoria Pyta. The industry partners on the project are: ARRB Group Ltd; Transport For NSW; Robert Bosch (Australia) Proprietary Limited; Road Safety Commission; GoGet Carshare; Suncorp Group Limited; VicRoads Design; Transport Accident Commission; and the Liberty Mutual Research Institute For Safety.

The project aims to explore three human factor issues critical to the successful deployment of automated vehicles: factors influencing driver choice of automated vehicle control; interactions between automated and manually controlled vehicles; and driver detection, recognition, and reaction to automated vehicle system failures. Automated vehicles are predicted to be transformative, but their ultimate success and expected societal benefits will depend on drivers’ trust in them and on how people choose to use and interact with them. Insights from this research should prepare our society for more automated vehicles on the roadways. The project has received $458,000 covering the three-year period 2016 to 2018.

Learn more about the grant