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The future is now: Western Sydney’s about to cop a bunch of ‘life-saving’ driverless cars

Driverless cars are coming to Australia, starting in New South Wales.

A two-year pilot project is in the works, which will see the Olympic Park in Sydney introducing self-driving shuttle cars on its premises.

As a trial run for wider introduction of driverless cars to Australia’s roads, the project will be pretty conservative to start with, so don’t expect any self-driving stunt cars: these shuttles will be limited to travelling at around 10 km/h (although they have the ability to go much faster).

The engineers behind the project are confident that safety concerns have been adequately addressed. According to the project’s spokespeople, the car will follow a pre-planned track and will do so within an accuracy range of just 20 millimetres.

So how does it work? The driverless cars at Olympic Park will be guided by GPS, and are programmed to brake immediately should anything or anyone unexpectedly wander into the road.

The whole project is seen as a testing ground for a wider introduction of the technology in Australia, says Roads Minister Melinda Pavey:

“We want to use the trial to help develop the systems that will enable automated vehicles to be connected to our infrastructure, like traffic lights and to our customers through their devices and applications.”

Safety concerns are the main hurdle facing the push for widespread adoption of driverless car technology. But public perceptions about the risks of self-driving vehicles are probably misguided, as they are in fact likely to be much safer than human drivers.

Considering that human drivers often drive while tired, angry, or even drunk, the shift to driverless technology would largely eliminate the huge number of accidents caused by those behaviours.

In fact, upwards of 90 percent of car accidents are caused by simple human error.

The reason for projects like this one will be to determine if driverless cars can really deliver on their promised safety records. After all, there will inevitably be accidents involving driverless cars in the future, whether caused by software glitches, satellite outages, or unforeseen circumstances that the car’s AI will be unable to handle.

The question is: will driverless cars be significantly safer than human drivers? At this stage, the answer seems to be an overwhelming yes. But projects like the one in Sydney are a necessary step in the process of testing whether that’s really true.

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