Drivers needed as world-first semi-autonomous vehicle trial launched

A Canberra company is looking for about 30 drivers to take part in a world-first trial of semi-autonomous vehicles.

Seeing Machines on Monday launched phase one of its CanDrive program, which focuses on the behaviour of drivers behind the wheel of automated vehicles, and how they react when they need to re-take control.

Seeing Machines project manager Nico Riquelme behind the wheel of a semi-automated Tesla equipped with driver monitoring technology.

Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Seeing Machines chief executive Ken Kroeger said while companies around the world were testing driverless cars, they were all focused on the vehicle's performance.

But he said Seeing Machines, which is listed on the London stock exchange but headquartered in Canberra, was the only one looking at human performance, using face-tracking technology to test drivers' reactions.

The view from behind the wheel of a Tesla vehicle fitted with Seeing Machines' driver monitoring technology.

Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

"Imagine an image sensor not that different from what's in your mobile phone, with a camera that's embedded somewhere inside the dashboard, almost invisible to the driver," Mr Kroeger said.

"[It's] measuring the driver by looking at their face, head behaviour and eyelid behaviour, as well as being able to figure out exactly where you're looking inside and outside the vehicle.

The interior of a Tesla equipped with Seeing Machines' driver monitoring technology.

Photo: Olia Balabina

"We're trying to understand how long it takes someone to reconnect with driving when they're required to re-take control after having their hands off the wheel."

The trial is focused on improving safety, with the viability of driverless vehicles called into question after a woman was killed by a self-driving Uber in the US in March.

In vehicles fitted with the Seeing Machines technology, the driver manually sets the vehicle's speed, with the system reminding them to pay attention if it detects that they are not touching the wheel or watching the road.

About 30 Canberrans will get the chance to test it out as part of the first phase of the project, which is funded by a $1.35 million ACT government grant.

Each of the volunteer drivers will get behind the wheel for about two hours at the Sutton Road Driver Training track in Majura, with phase one expected to take about four months.

Mr Kroeger said the data collected would inform the second phase of the project, in which semi-autonomous cars would hit public roads.

Minister for Community Services and Social Inclusion Rachel Stephen-Smith said the ACT government would work with Seeing Machines to introduce legislation that would make that possible.

"This is a really important part of the global research around how we ensure automated vehicles are going to work on our roads," she said.

"Autonomous vehicles have a lot of potential to improve safety and provide greater independence to people who can’t drive, and potentially reduce congestion on our roads.

"All of that potential is there, but we need to ensure as a global community of innovators that the technology is safe and that people are going to feel safe with it."

Seeing Machines' technology has already hit interstate highways in the US, where it has been installed in the 2018 Cadillac CT6 as part of the world's first hands-free highway driving system.

Mr Kroeger said he expected semi-autonomous vehicles would hit the Australian market somewhere between 2020 and 2022.

Drivers interested in taking part in the trial should email

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