Last year, Redland City Council in partnership with RACQ brought an exciting and innovative transport trial to the idyllic community of Karragarra Island in Moreton Bay.
The Redlands Coast Smart Mobility Trial is the first of a series of on-road trials of an autonomous vehicle planned by the RACQ over the next five years to explore their potential to address issues such as transport disadvantage.
The trials will also expand understanding about the safety of autonomous vehicles, their suitability to Queensland driving conditions and how they interact with other road users.
For the people of Karragarra Island, the RACQ Smart Shuttle represents their first ever public transport option.
Since November, residents and visitors have enjoyed a bus service running from the foreshore park and playground, past the ferry terminal, and along the length of the island – all without a driver.
An innovative local government
Redland City Council CEO Andrew Chesterman said the six-month trial of the RACQ Smart Shuttle (which concludes in May 2020), positioned the organisation as an innovative local government.
“In running the smart shuttle trial on Karragarra, Redland City Council has demonstrated its willingness to use data and technology to improve the city’s liveability and place it at the forefront of intelligence, productivity and sustainability,” Mr Chesterman said.
“This has helped position Redlands Coast as an ideal location to trial new technologies,” he said.
Mr Chesterman said the benefits such technology could bring to the wider community could not be underestimated.
“The trial is just one way we are working towards finding smart solutions to improve the lives of people living in more isolated communities like Karragarra Island and our other Southern Moreton Bay Islands,” he said.
Mr Chestermann said numerous innate features of life on Karragarra Island made it an ideal location for the trial.
“Karragarra Island is a low speed and low traffic environment as well as being relatively flat, ticking at least two important boxes,” he said.
“In addition, the fact that none of the Southern Moreton Bay Islands are part of a declared transport contract area meant the service would not compete with any existing public service providers.”
While choosing Karragarra Island was the first trial location made sense, bringing the trial to fruition was not without its challenges, and the project team has learnt a lot while on the island.
Mr Chesterman said a notable challenge, ironically, was the logistical aspect of deploying an autonomous shuttle to an isolated community in the Southern Moreton Bay Islands.
“Securing Queensland’s first permit to operate a smart shuttle on an open road was a significant milestone, as at the time, no framework or guideline documents were available to guide the creation of the permit application.
“The solution was to work collaboratively with key stakeholders to understand information requirements so that the relevant information could be presented to the regulatory authorities,” he said.
“I commend the Department of Transport and Main Roads for their willingness to embrace opportunities in autonomous technology by supplying the team with a permit to run the shuttle.
“You could see it as a leap of faith on their part, as it is the first of its kind in Queensland.
“Enabling trials of smart technology – while being extremely considerate of safety – will benefit everyone in the long run,” he said.
Gaining insights into how the vehicle works on the open road
The key desired outcome from the trial is a greater understanding of how autonomous vehicles function in an open road environment and their interaction with other road users.
The makers of the shuttle, EasyMile, will collect and collate data and analytics during the trial.
EasyMile, a French based company with offices in Adelaide and Singapore, has autonomous vehicles operating in over 22 countries.
The vehicle on Karragarra is an EasyMile EZ10 Gen 2, a smart shuttle that has been successfully operated in over 200 locations.
In other locations, autonomous vehicles like the EZ10 enable smart mobility opportunities such as providing a first mile/last mile connection to transit hubs, activity centres and local neighbourhoods.
Each smart shuttle requires a high level of information to reach its destination safely and is equipped with numerous sensors.
These collect and analyse recorded data to create a 360-degree picture of the surrounding environment, such as infrastructure, vehicles, pedestrians, buildings and any other object in its path.
Real time processing of the data allows the driverless vehicle system to decide how to behave to progress safely along its designated route.
The shuttle can detect and avoid potential obstacles on the road by either adapting its speed and trajectory, safely braking or stopping.
Understanding community attitudes key to determining future role
Mr Chesterman said that to complement the data collected by EasyMile, the University of the Sunshine Coast was undertaking a research project to evaluate interactions with the community, and community expectations of autonomous vehicles.
“Taking the opportunity to see what the community thinks about this type of transport technology is key to understanding how it could best work for us in the future,” Andrew Chesterman said.
“The results of the trial will help inform future Council policy development in relation to the role autonomous vehicles could play in the transport system.
“The future of mobility is a dynamic space and technology will play an important role in an efficient and sustainable transport network.
“The opportunity to be at the forefront in Queensland, in partnership with RACQ, is very exciting and signals that Redland City Council is serious in achieving its vision of a high quality, equitable, efficient and sustainable transport network.”
“This pilot has revealed a number of challenges we are of course happy to share more broadly across the local government sector”.