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UC research helps drive the future

Antony Perry

30 May 2017: Researchers from the University of Canberra will play a role in a world-first project aimed at improving the safety of driverless vehicles and accelerating their development.

The ACT Government has partnered with Seeing Machines, a Canberra-based company specialising in face and eye tracking technology, to gather information on the connection between driver behaviour and driverless vehicles.

The $1.35 million trial, set to be unveiled in the 6 June budget, will look specifically at when drivers of autonomous cars must take full control again – for example, when exiting highways or when road conditions change.

Little is known about the transition from autonomous driving to taking back control of a vehicle – including the length of time it takes a person to regain their focus.

The University of Canberra and the Australian National University (ANU) will contribute to the joint initiative through their expertise.

Researchers from the University of Canberra will assess the potential health and social impacts of automated vehicles, while ANU will contribute research around data analytics and computer vision.

The University’s Director of Innovation and Strategic Initiatives, Victor Pantano, said community perceptions of autonomous vehicles were mixed and that the University’s researchers would be working to better understand public attitudes.

“Automated vehicles elicit a variety of reactions from people – some hold positive opinions while others are quite worried about them being on the road,” Dr Pantano said.

“The research we’re going to be undertaking will help us to better understand peoples’ perceptions and the reasons behind them so we can develop strategies to get people feeling more comfortable about the use of automated vehicles in our community.”

Up to 40 Canberrans will be recruited for the trial, with participants given an autonomous car to drive for two weeks at a time. Face-tracking technology will be used to read their reactions to determine how quickly a driver can take control of the car.

The data collected during the trial will help improve technology to make driverless vehicles safer and assist governments to create laws around their use.

ACT Government local industry advocate Kate Lundy will chair the planning committee set up to oversee the trial.

Ms Lundy said having universities involved in the project reinforced Canberra’s reputation as a smart city.

“The University of Canberra and the Australian National University will develop research projects and work hand in hand with Seeing Machines to add even more value to the trial,” Ms Lundy said.

“This presents an example of a smart city where our universities collaborate closely with our smartest companies to add enormous social and economic value to an area of new technology that in some way will impact every single one of us as time goes on.”

University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Deep Saini said it was exciting for the University to work on a local, unique initiative.

“The University of Canberra is committed to working with government and industry on solving everyday problems,” Professor Saini said.

“We aim to be at the forefront of innovation and leading improvements in our community and further abroad. Our researchers are well placed to further global knowledge of automated vehicles and how they can be used on the roads.”