Driverless vehicles: a complex journey towards a simpler life

3 minute read  03.02.2020 Michael Milford, David Pearce, Amy Dunphy

What does a 'brave new world' of driverless vehicles look like? How will their introduction impact on cities of the future?

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In this episode of our podcast series, Transforming business with MinterEllison: ideas and challenges that are shaping our future, we discuss the introduction of driverless vehicles into society.

Driverless vehicles are fast becoming a reality in countries around the world, including in Australia. While the timeframe for mainstream deployment is still uncertain, this technology is set to transform our cities, communities and way of life – and it's already influencing government decisions about infrastructure investments and urban planning.

To explore these issues, we spoke with:

  • Michael Milford, Professor of Robotics at the Queensland University of Technology and a Chief Investigator at the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision, 
  • Partner David Pearce, who advises on major infrastructure projects and the impact of emerging technologies, and
  • Senior Associate Amy Dunphy, who is completing a legal PhD in connected and autonomous vehicles.

Changing the landscape of Australia's roads

Australia's roads and transport infrastructure are developed for cars driven by humans.

However, once a human driver is removed, the physical landscape of Australia's roads will fundamentally change, and it may be unrecognisable by today's standards. Governments need to be continually aware of the technological advancements when they are trying to 'future-proof' cities.

Legal and regulatory considerations when introducing driverless vehicles

Australia has been very proactive in its response to implementing driverless vehicles from a regulatory perspective. It has a staged program to review and reform transport and related laws that are affected by driverless vehicles' introduction.

From a legal point of view, the widespread introduction of driverless vehicles introduces a range of new concerns in areas such as motor vehicle ownership, road and transport regulation. Privacy data, access, cyber security, insurance and workplace health and safety raise new issues to consider. In addition, there are contracting issues such as intellectual property ownership, risk allocation, limitation of liability and quality control to factor in.

Moving towards a future with driverless vehicles

Many driverless vehicle trials are taking place around Australia. Both government and private entities such as motor vehicle companies are testing out use cases for these vehicles on road in controlled environments, and new legal considerations need to be factored in so they can take place safely.

There is a lot of work taking place to prepare for the technology's ongoing implementation.

For example, government bodies like the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads are investigating and assessing the potential for autonomous vehicle technologies, and the impact they're going to have. They're considering, for example, what infrastructure Australia might need, how connectivity will work when there are many of these vehicles on the road, and how individuals might respond to them. Governments and the public need to be well informed so that, moving forward, the right decisions can be made.

The team at Queensland University of Technology are working with industries and government to develop the technology, improve the efficiency of existing autonomous vehicles and assess the implications for a range of industries, including mining and defence.

Transforming industries

Australia is technologically strong in exploring autonomous vehicles in a range of industry areas. For example, the mining sector has used autonomous vehicles for some time. In other sectors such as defence, autonomous vehicles are likely to play a critical role in the future. 

For the mining sector, there are some complex issues to consider with the shift to more autonomous fleets, such as the social licence to operate in regional communities. There are also industrial relations risks to be managed in connection with any changing technology that replaces or creates different jobs. Ultimately, safety is the most important factor when using this technology at mine sites and in other places.

Other sectors that are already considering the implications of this technology include agriculture and property development. For example, a property developer may consider what it means for their businesses if, in twenty years, carparks aren't as valuable as they are now.

MinterEllison is working with and advising clients in a number of these sectors around safely trialling the technology, and also then helping to consider the future implications for government, infrastructure and for businesses.

Listen to the full discussion in our podcast

Search for the podcast in your favourite podcast app or listen below. 

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