Technology and innovation

FY16 SUMMARY

  • Awarded two Innovation Grants for research into road safety barriers and noise mitigation
  • Completed strategic reviews and provided public comment on how Transurban can support the progress of autonomous vehicle technology and legislation
  • Completed autonomous vehicle trials on our USA Express Lanes
  • Integrated technology into our motorways with investment in Intelligent Transport Systems and integration of consistent technology across our motorways
  • Improved data analytics opportunities with a view to delivering real-time information to improve safety, transport efficiency and customer service

Innovation grants

Transurban’s Innovation Grant program aims to encourage research and innovation among university, research and technology organisations. Grants of up to $100,000 are available for research on innovative projects that help address challenges in transport and infrastructure.

As part of our commitment to ‘Think Long Term’, the intent of the program is to support ideas requiring further research and investigation to determine their feasibility and application to real world challenges. Transurban hopes to advance the cause of this research and drive long-term improvements in materials and technology that may one day benefit the transport sector and community as a whole.

Motorway noise cancellation and transformation - RMIT

In FY16, Transurban awarded its second Innovation Grant of $100,000 to RMIT for research into potential new noise management approaches for urban motorways.

Traffic noise along motorways is primarily mitigated by sound attenuating walls and acoustic insulation of adjacent buildings to reduce noise to acceptable levels in surrounding areas. The RMIT project will pilot new approaches to acoustic design including noise cancellation, noise transformation and sound composition.

Noise cancellation technology involves recording existing sound and generating counteracting frequencies that cancel or reduce the effect of the original sound. This is the same technology used in active noise-cancelling headphones. Where total cancellation is not practical, noise transformation counteracts the original sound by reshaping it into a more even and peaceful tone.

In a pilot project to be tested at selected Transurban sites, a mixture of microphone and speaker arrays will be mounted temporarily onto motorway sound walls to produce new acoustic conditions using these technologies. This may improve the effectiveness of existing sound walls by managing residual traffic noise.

The project will provide insight into the effects and public perceptions of the acoustic technologies. Community members will be invited to participate in surveys to assess health and well-being outcomes.

Road safety barriers - University of Newcastle

Our first Innovation Grant recipient, a team from the University of Newcastle, continued their research in FY16 into a potential new material for road safety barriers based on a metallic foam called perlite metallic syntactic foam, a highly energy-absorbent material.

With further research, this material may have potential for use in roadside safety barriers that rely on energy absorption to cushion the impact of road accidents. If the material shows advantages over traditional road safety barriers, this may help reduce the number of serious injuries and fatalities associated with road collisions.


Above: series of photos showing compression testing of a sample of one variant of the material

Research will continue over the next two years with a prototype of the road safety barrier expected to be developed in 2017.

Connected and autonomous vehicles

Vehicle technology is advancing at a rapid pace and the prospect of self-driving cars is becoming a reality. Connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) is a term to summarise a range of vehicle technologies that incorporate technology to actively communicate and respond to road infrastructure and other vehicles (connected), or have self-driving capabilities (autonomous).

As a toll road owner and operator, we believe that the introduction of CAVs represents a considerable opportunity in the global road operations industry. In the long term, the potential benefits of CAVs include:

  • Safety: Current road transport data suggest that human error causes up to 94 per cent of vehicle crashes and this element could be greatly reduced or removed with autonomous vehicles. Road traffic accidents are forecast to reduce significantly once autonomous cars reach widespread use on our roads
  • Efficiency: Autonomous vehicles also offer huge potential to improve the efficiency of our roads due to the pattern in which autonomous vehicles are able to drive – that is, the potential to reduce distance between vehicles travelling in a high-speed ‘platoon’ without compromising safety. It is expected that average lane use capacity could increase by 10 to 25 per cent once CAVs are widely used

While there are still significant technological, social and legal challenges before widespread CAV use can be expected, Transurban is actively engaged in research and advocacy of the possibilities of this technology for the transport industry and wider society.

Autonomous vehicle legislation

In April 2016, we submitted a response to the New South Wales Staysafe Committee’s inquiry into driverless vehicles and the impact on road safety in New South Wales. Our response outlined our view that introducing CAVs presents many opportunities for our business and customers. We recommended that Staysafe consider:

  • Legislation enabling driverless vehicles should specifically address the capabilities that both ‘connected’ and ‘autonomous’ vehicles will bring
  • Urban motorways as ideal locations for the early adoption of CAVs on public roads as they provide a safe, well-maintained environment with fewer complicating factors for CAVs to navigate, such as traffic signals, pedestrians and cyclists
  • Developing regulations that provide for the creation of dedicated CAV lanes on motorways that would facilitate the safe combination of CAV and manually operated vehicles during the transition phase

We also highlighted our knowledge and experience in working with autonomous vehicles through our pilot projects in the USA, in partnership with VDOT, Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) and mapping specialist ‘HERE’.

We concluded by recommending that with CAVs now in the real-world testing phase, it is important for governments and industry to consider the legislation, regulatory frameworks, industry standards and codes of practice that need to be in place to support the safe testing of CAVs and the introduction of CAVs into the market.

Our submission to the Staysafe Committee can be viewed here.

Transurban autonomous vehicle trials

Transurban partnered with VTTI and VDOT on an automated- and connected-vehicle road test on the 95 Express Lanes in FY16.

The 95 Express Lanes were among the first facilities in the USA to host a test demonstration for CAVs in real world conditions. In October 2015 and June 2016, we completed the trials as part of two initiatives known as Virginia Automated Corridors (VAC) and Virginia Connected Corridors (VCC).

To provide a safe, closed environment for demonstration, both trials took place during the mid-day closure and reversal of the I-395 HOV lanes and 95 Express Lanes allowing some of the latest CAV concepts to be showcased on an open roadway without disrupting operations for customers. The second of these trials featured Transurban Board members as passengers to experience first-hand the opportunities and challenges of this technology.

High-definition mapping capabilities, real-time traffic and incident information, intelligent routing and high-precision global navigation satellite systems were tested during the demonstration. Test vehicles encountered and reacted to test scenarios such as:

  • Travelling through a work zone with the construction crew wearing vests that communicate with the vehicle
  • Shifting lanes when a police vehicle is stopped on a shoulder
  • Reacting to a moving emergency vehicle
  • Reacting to a car drifting into the autonomous vehicle’s lane
  • Stopping in response to a stalled vehicle

The autonomous vehicles performed well in many scenarios, but limitations with the technology were revealed in some situations, including failure to detect some obstacles which resulted in the driver having to intervene. Through our partnership with VTTI, we will continue to explore the practical application of emerging technologies and how they can best be used to improve safety, customer experience on our roadways, and road utilisation efficiency.

A video of the October 2015 trial can be seen below.

At Transurban’s 2016 Investor Day, we provided a 360° virtual reality video simulating how an autonomous vehicle might travel on CityLink and what the software is doing in order to keep the occupants safe, including removing the need for lights, stop signs and intersections.

We also discussed Transurban’s own internal modelling of how the widespread adoption of CAVs will have a significant impact on road transport demand and travel patterns, including the potential for a 10 to 25 per cent increase in motorway capacity by 2030 as a result of efficiencies from CAV capabilities in traffic.

Technology Integration

Transurban continually looks for ways to create efficiencies in our operations that benefit our customers and shareholders. We are investing in Intelligent Transport Systems and value-added transport technologies to realise greater network benefits by consolidating technology systems across the network, and connecting and sharing data more effectively to improve safety and traffic management activities.

GLIDe tolling system

In FY16, we made considerable progress towards transitioning remaining New South Wales assets and customer systems onto our GLIDe tolling platform. Following these changes, GLIDe is now the tolling system for our Victorian and New South Wales retail brands and the majority of VIC and NSW assets (excluding CCT and M5).

Using one platform enables us to be more efficient and is key to us to providing an enhanced and consistent experience for our customers.

A review of the project was conducted to identify how we can deliver projects like this even better in the future, with the next major phase being to migrate customer systems from Transurban Queensland onto the GLIDe platform, commencing this migration from late 2017.

Data Analytics

The ability to analyse and act on data has become increasingly important to ensure business success for many companies.

In FY16, we introduced dedicated Data Analytics capability into Transurban to enhance the process of collecting, organising and analysing large volumes of data from many disparate sources (otherwise known as ‘big data’).

By unlocking the value in the extensive data we gather on a daily basis, it will allow us to produce valuable, actionable business insights resulting in better informed, data driven decisions.

The combination of new technologies, data-science expertise and analytics disciplines is allowing Transurban to explore a number of opportunities, including:

  • Improved safety on our roads through a better understanding of the nature of incidents and our ability to assess risk of incidents based on predictive models
  • Enhanced understanding of our customers through better segmentation, driving behaviour analysis as well as a heightened understanding of the impacts of external factors such as weather, major events and fuel pricing
  • Improved management and optimisation of our road and technology assets
  • Improved revenue and customer experiences through travel time prediction, travel route/time recommendations, congestion management and revenue leakage analysis

During FY16, we strengthened our investment in cloud, digital and data with a range of value-adding transport technologies, including:

  • Integrating digital Application Programing Interface capabilities to enable a more effective customer experience
  • Implementing cloud services and automation technologies to expand capacity and speed up delivery
  • Big data technologies to extract more value from the information collected from our roadside, tolling and operational systems

CityLink control system simulator

We are upgrading CityLink’s Operation, Management and Control System (OMCS) — used to run traffic management and safety systems — to increase performance and to support an additional 1,000 devices that will be added to the road as part of the CityLink Tulla Widening (CTW) project.

In FY16, the CTW Intelligent Transport Systems team developed a simulator to test the control system for the Burnley and Domain tunnels, allowing the team to carry out a broad range of testing during the OMCS upgrade that otherwise would not have been possible without road closures. This includes testing the operation of critical safety systems including fire, ventilation and high voltage electrical supply.

Automated testing was introduced to simulate the equivalent of months of manual testing within days. The simulator and automated testing saved time and also meant tunnel closures were not required to test the system. Previously, to carry out full testing, three overnight closures for the Burnley Tunnel and two for the Domain Tunnel would have been required.

This equates to an estimated 250 hours saved as well as 300,000 litres of water saved from testing the tunnel deluge systems, which are used for fire control.