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Victoria starts trial of an 'autonobus' at La Trobe University

The trial of an autonomous bus - or autonobus as it is being dubbed - has kicked off in Victoria on La Trobe University's main campus after other states have begun similar trials.

Autonomous buses are just that: small buses with no driver, packed with sensors so the vehicle can feel its way from A to B.  The vehicle in question does not have an internal combustion engine - it's electric - and manufactured by French company Navya.

One of the key partners on the trial is the RACV and this mirrors the experience in other states with their respective royal automobile mutuals playing a key part - the RAC took part in the trial of the first of its kind in Perth and NRMA is a backer of the NSW trial that began in August.

La Trobe University's Bundoora campus is the testbed for the Victorian trial with the bus running on a defined route linking the main bus interchange with other sections of the campus.

According to La Trobe, the autonobus 'is being trialled to gain an understanding of the technology involved including how autonomous shuttles integrate with our road system and how humans interact with automated technologies.'

In reality, this trial at La Trobe's Bundoora campus is one in a very long global list for the Navya vehicle - which is being supplied by HMI Technologies in Victoria.  

Australia may have lost its private vehicle manufacturing industry, yet our market is clearly of interest to new manufacturers, regardless of the infancy level that technology and regulatory systems are at.

The mind boggles with the potential applications of this type of vehicle.  As I've written before, an exciting application for autonobuses might be to liberate people from car ownership.

The economics will have to change - and that is likely to come after the regulatory framework for autonomous vehicles is sorted and manufacturers go mass-market - and I'll be the first to admit we're a long way off, but with a little bit of leadership, we have the chance to write the wrongs of our overwhelming auto-centricity.

During the trial the Navya vehicle will operate on a defined route - much like a bus, tram or train service - however it can also head off into 'roam' mode - turning it into something resembling a taxi, where users can flag it down - most likely through a smart phone app - and then complete their journey.

There is a long way to go until households who live in Public Transport deadzones can truly be liberated from multiple-car ownership through the wide-scale rollout of autonobuses, however eyes on the prize please Spring Street, innovators sometimes need guidance and it's time to get more active.

For those who would like a first-hand experience can register their interest on La Trobe University's website.

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