24 May 2019

Autonomous bus completes trial at Belconnen aged care village

| Lachlan Roberts
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driverless shuttle bus

Canberra’s first driverless shuttle bus trial took place at an aged care village in Belconnen. Photos: Supplied by IRT Group.

Residents at an aged care village in Belconnen have been the first Canberrans to ride on a driverless shuttle bus, as part of a two-week trial at Kangara Waters.

French company Easy Mile’s autonomous shuttle, which can seat up to six passengers, has been transporting residents around a one-kilometre loop around the village, helping them visit neighbours or use any of the village’s services and amenities.

Reaching a top speed of 10 kilometres per hour, the bus still has a “chaperone” on board due to ACT government regulations and road laws.

The bus automatically pulls over at the village’s eight stops, where passengers can get straight on or press a button to deploy an access ramp to accommodate residents with mobility aids.

The bus uses satellites and lasers to navigate and monitor other vehicles, pedestrians, roundabouts, shrubs and even bins on the footpath.

IRT Group CEO Patrick Reid said each of the stops was carefully selected to enable residents to easily visit friends and neighbours and make use of the village’s services and amenities, including the onsite cafe, pool, gym, hairdresser and community centre.

Passengers can get straight on or press a button to deploy an access ramp to accommodate residents with mobility aids.

Mr Reid said the purpose of the project was to determine how the technology can be used to improve independence and quality of life for older people. He said it had been a hit around the village, with 40 to 60 passengers boarding the shuttle every day.

“As we test the shuttle on the private roads within IRT Kangara Waters, we hope to better understand how it could help aged care and retirement living residents travel more independently,” he said.

“Hopefully, in turn, we can reduce the social isolation that can occur when it’s hard to get out and about without the assistance of a friend or family member.

“Many residents are still mentally very capable but no longer drive due to common life-changing events, such as the loss of a driver’s licence due to age, a fall causing mobility difficulties, loss of hearing or eyesight.

“We’re grateful for the support of Telstra Southern NSW & ACT to help fund this stage of the project and ACT Government for working with us to approve the trial on a private Canberra road.”

Data will be collected throughout the trial to measure perception shifts and behavioural change in participating residents, which will be shared with government and industry bodies to see if more autonomous vehicles will be rolled out at other ACT aged care and retirement villages.

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