EastLink Trials of Automated Vehicle Technologies Have Delivered Real Results

Trials to determine the compatibility of the latest automated vehicle technologies with Melbourne’s EastLink have been steadily progressing throughout this year. Level.2 vehicles from seven major manufacturers have already been trialled on EastLink – with more on the way – and the initial results are in!

The trials are being undertaken by EastLink in partnership with VicRoads, the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB), La Trobe University and RACV, and with the assistance of major vehicle manufacturers.

With hands-off-the-wheel driving on EastLink and other suitable freeways expected within the next few years (subject to legislative changes), these trials have produced real results for freeway operators and vehicle manufacturers to facilitate the safe and early introduction of this capability on EastLink and other Victorian freeways.

EastLink trials have already been conducted with the latest Level.2 vehicles provided by the widest range of manufacturers for a trials program of this type, including BMW, Honda, Mazda, Mercedes, Mitsubishi and Volvo. The most recent technology demonstration to be completed involved a vehicle provided by Tesla. This week, a vehicle provided by Lexus has commenced trials on EastLink. In addition, Audi and Toyota will soon be providing vehicles to assist with the trials program and EastLink encourages other vehicle manufacturers to become involved in this trials program.

The trials have identified real opportunities to improve the compatibility between the latest automated vehicle technologies and freeway infrastructure. For example,

Line markings:
• Good quality of line markings – including reflectivity and luminosity – on both sides of the lane are essential to avoid “drop outs” of the lane keeping assist function, and to help a vehicle maintain its position centrally in a traffic lane.
• Gaps in contiguous line markings should be avoided, as this may lead to drop outs of the lane keeping assist function or unintentional lateral movement.
• In construction zones, the use of temporary yellow line markings conflicting with white line markings is incompatible with the lane keeping assist function, causing drop outs. The automated functions in different vehicles may drop out with varying amounts of advance warning. When planning traffic management for construction zones, road operators will need to consider whether lane keeping assist drop outs are acceptable, on a case by case basis.

Speed signs:
• Consistency of speed signage (format and placement) and maintaining line of sight visibility will enable more reliable interpretation by vehicles.
• Speed signs on freeway exit ramps or side roads need to be located well away from the main carriageway so they are not confused for main carriageway signs.
• Conflicting or confusing speed signs should be avoided, as vehicles find it very difficult to determine the correct speed limit under these circumstances. This could occur within a construction zone where there is poor implementation of traffic management plans, or in circumstances where static signs show that different speeds apply to different vehicle types or at different times of the day.
• Variable speed signs are increasingly deployed on Melbourne’s freeways. Roadside variable speed signs are read very well by some vehicles, while other vehicles are not yet reading them reliably.
• The flashing annulus feature on variable speed signs (when speed is lower than normal) is not expected by some vehicles, impacting recognition.
• In general, overhead variable speed signs, which are an increasingly common format on Melbourne’s freeways, are not yet read reliably by vehicles.

Lane control signs:
• Overhead lane control signs (designating a lane open or closed) are increasingly common on Melbourne’s freeways. However, they are not yet recognised and used by vehicles.

Vehicle manufacturers and freeway operators are now able to work on taking advantage of these opportunities to further improve the performance of the latest Level.2 automated vehicle technologies, which will pave the way for Level.3 hands-off-the-wheel driving on EastLink and other suitable freeways (subject to legislative changes).

With Level.3 hands-off-the-wheel driving on the way, it’s envisaged that freeway operators will need to communicate directly to autonomous vehicles, for example to communicate a change in conditions or operating environment (e.g. emergency incident, congestion event, or lane/tunnel/bridge/freeway closure).

As part of the EastLink trials, connected vehicle transceivers are now being installed at three of EastLink’s tolling gantries, to create a section of EastLink enabled for V2X (vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to infrastructure) communications.

Initial testing has been focused on verifying the compatibility of connected vehicle communications (5.9 GHz) with the existing DSRC tolling tag communications (5.8 GHz). Next, the trials program will conduct on-road tests of different message types using suitably equipped connected vehicles.

Doug Spencer-Roy, EastLink spokesperson, says:  “EastLink is delighted to be working with our partners VicRoads, ARRB, La Trobe University and RACV as well as the vehicle manufacturers who wish to participate in, and learn from, these important trials of automated vehicle technologies on EastLink.

“The EastLink trials that have been underway throughout this year have identified real opportunities for vehicle manufacturers and freeway operators, including EastLink, to improve the compatibility of the latest driver-assistance technologies with Victorian freeways.”