What is innovation and how does it apply to transport? Is Australia a nation of innovation in the transport sector or is it a follower? Are we succeeding in our endeavours and what positive insights can be revealed?
Australia has for a long time been a leading global innovator in the design and regulation of large articulated trucks as the backbone of its freight and logistics industry. This is important as Australia spends approximately twice as much of its GDP per capita on transport as the average OECD country. By being innovative in road transport it has led the nation to be much more internationally competitive with its exports on a global stage.
So are driverless vehicles the nation’s greatest opportunity for success in transport innovation? ADVI, the Australia and New Zealand Driverless Vehicles Initiative, seems to think so. They believe that Australia’s early adoption, investment and leadership in this space will dictate our international competitiveness for many decades to come.
ADVI says these technologies will make driving easier, allow people to be more productive and offer greater mobility to a wider range of people than ever before. As a result, driverless vehicles will provide significant economic, environmental and social benefits including improving social inclusion.
Australia was the first nation in the southern hemisphere to demonstrate autonomous vehicles on its public road system in November 2015 when Volvo demonstrated its autonomous drive technology on the Southern Expressway in Adelaide.
Australia has the foundation for a growing industry to support the growth of automated vehicles. We already have some excellent success stories with locally grown companies like Cohda Wireless and Seeing Machines showing that we can be very effective innovators.
Unfortunately right now there are few automated vehicle technology companies headquartered in Australia and Australian companies also hold very few patents. A recent report by KPMG also highlights other barriers to the industry in Australia including a lack of electric vehicles and electric vehicle charging stations, limited availability of 4G communications throughout Australia, and the relatively poor quality of our regional road infrastructure. Often innovation is thwarted due to these types of external barriers. An example is the electric vehicle mobility space. Electric vehicles have been slow to be embraced in Australia for a number of reasons. Purchase cost and the distance able to be travelled on a charge remain key concerns.
According to the Electric Vehicle Council, Australia is falling behind on electric vehicle uptake. While there are two million electric vehicles on the road globally, they represent less than one tenth of one per cent of the market in Australia. And yet, a July 2018 survey by ACA Research revealed that 26% of all Australian’s would be interested in buying an electric vehicle as their next vehicle. And 80% believed electric vehicles will be mainstream within 5 to 10 years.
Will innovations in the hydrogen electric vehicle space go the same way? If we act now we can surely do better and establish a strong innovation ecosystem in hydrogen in Australia that achieves a better outcome.
Technology growth in transport is considered by many as ‘exponential’ right now. But what creates successful technology? Steve Wozniak, one of the co-founders of Apple, says it is “experience”. If consumers use it and have a positive experience then they’ll keep using it. If they don’t then it’s time to move to something different.
So in 2018 where does Australia stand with innovation in transport? Well we have many of the right ingredients including the talent and creativity to succeed. We also have many companies in the transport space like the RAC and Transurban that are embracing innovation and mainstreaming it into their core operations. So the future is bright but we do need to continue to implement new ideas and to build the supporting innovation ecosystem.
Peter Damen is the Principal and Chief Executive Officer of Level 5 Design, a specialist advisory and design consultancy dedicated to achieving valuable innovative outcomes for its customers in the rapidly evolving transport technology and infrastructure planning and design spaces.