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SA roads will be "hard-wired" for driverless cars

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Several of South Australia’s most significant road projects are being hard-wired to “talk” to driverless cars in the future.

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Speaking with reporters at the driverless cars conference in Adelaide this morning, Transport Minister Stephen Mullighan said the Torrens-to-Torrens, Darlington and Northern Connector roads projects would be made to integrate with autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles.

“The Torrens-to-Torrens project, the Darlington project, the Northern Connector: we’re hard-wiring those as sections of road to be able to bolt on the technology at the point in time that we’re ready to deploy it,” said Mullighan.

“This is something that we’re going to be rolling out across our transport network in the future.

“Just in the last 12 months, we’ve been rolling out Bluetooth receivers across all of our traffic signal boxes in greater metropolitan Adelaide.

“We’ve got what we think is the most advanced traffic monitoring ability of any state in Australia.”

Premier Jay Weatherill told conference delegates that driverless cars had the potential to dramatically reduce the road toll in SA.

“Road crashes are a leading cause of death amongst all age groups and the number one cause of death among those aged 15 to 29,” said Weatherill.

“We have an average of 100 fatalities and 700 serious injuries on our roads on each year.

“The personal carnage … the tragedies that each of these incidents represent could be massively reduced with these technologies.

“Advancing towards driverless vehicles … will allow us to significantly reduce this toll.”

He said many crashes were the result of simple human error – which autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles could reduce or eliminate – rather than extreme risk-taking.

“People make simple mistakes and massive tragedies flow from them,” he said.

Weatherill said SA could develop a new manufacturing sector out of the ashes of the state’s automotive industry, in the form of components for driverless cars.

However, he conceded, this industry would not approach the scale of the car manufacturing industry that has acted as a major employer in the state.

“There’s no doubt it will be a different sort of manufacturing,” said Weatherill.

“It won’t be large-run, high volume, low value manufacturing. It will be small, niche operations to give us the opportunity to use our skills and talents.

“You may well see SA involved in perhaps not the assembly of the whole of the vehicle, but crucial elements of the vehicle might be capable of being manufactured here.

“That’s the way of modern manufacturing: small runs, highly sophisticated products, where relatively high-cost jurisdictions – but also high-skill, high-capability jurisdictions like SA – get back into the business of manufacturing.”

However, Opposition Transport spokesperson Corey Wingard told InDaily the Government needed to demonstrate “where the jobs are coming from”.

“I think everyone’s looking forward to seeing the display over the weekend but it has been pointed out that we are seeing a foreign-made car come here and road-test,” he said.

“If we’re bringing this infrastructure in, to enable us to use European cars – overseas cars – to drive on our roads, where is the ability to generate jobs for South Australians?

“We’ve got a jobs crisis in South Australia … so what we need to see the fast-tracking of jobs. We need jobs now.

“Innovation is imperative here, we need to be working with any advancements in innovation within our state, but we need to be doing it with a view to creating jobs.”

Weatherill said the government had received some “very exciting propositions” from companies involved in developing and manufacturing driverless cars, and SA was well-placed to take advantage of a growing industry, with “good access to decision makers”.

“It’s amazing the response that we’ve had in just eight months,” he said.

“We have an impressive track record as an incubator for a test-bed of ideas…we’re big enough to have a critical mass of skills and infrastructure and capability; yet, at the same time, we’re small enough for companies to get things done quickly – to get good access to decision makers, to come to a low-cost, low-tax, pro-growth business environment, and people who have a bias for ‘yes’ for this industry.

“If you represent a company or a research organisation, if you’re an entrepreneur – if you’re interested in this driverless car industry, we’re interested in talking to you.

“We are one of the world’s most liveable cities – we want to add to that being one of the world’s smartest cities.”

Deeper ethical and social questions posed by autonomous vehicles would have to be answered as the technology develops, and were part of the purpose of the conference, said Weatherill.

But he said the technology constituted an “enormous social good”.

“It’s going to improve the productivity of our roads, it will improve safety on our roads, but more importantly it gets us in with the technologies that create the jobs here.”

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