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Speech at the 'Seeing Machines' Launch: Technology to Improve Road Safety
To representatives from Seeing Machines to Ron Finemore from Ron Finemore Transport, to representatives from Monash University, from the Commonwealth Government and other stakeholders: I’m very, very pleased to be here to launch this important study. As we know, the road freight sector is key to our economy. It employs 185,000 people; a total revenue of $52 billion in 2014-15. And the freight task is growing. It’s expected to increase 26 per cent over the next decade. Over 95 per cent of Australia’s road freight task is carried by heavy vehicles and the articulated trucks carry more than three-quarters of the freight task. So, road freight, very important to our economy, very important to our society, and I think Ron’s business Ron Finemore Transport, is a good example of that, with over 450 people, over 250 prime movers.
Now, safety is absolutely critical for participants in the industry and everybody else who’s using the roads, along with heavy vehicles. In 2017 there were 168 fatal crashes involving heavy vehicles in Australia and total crashes involving articulated trucks increased by 3.3 per cent over 2016. As well as the figures for heavy vehicles, it’s also sobering to look at the figures for the influence of fatigue on fatalities and injuries. Three hundred and ninety-four Australians die every year due to fatigue-related road vehicle crashes and industrial accidents.
So, we do have a serious challenge when it comes to road safety and industrial safety. But technology offers the prospect of finding some absolutely transformative solutions. And of course, that’s what we’re here to officially launch today – the trial of the next generation, involving Seeing Machines driver monitoring technology, which provides real-time in-cab alerts when there’s fatigue or distraction, and when it’s detected by sensors which face the driver. I’ve just had the opportunity to have a look at how the system works, to see a screen showing the key data being picked up from my face. Now, I’m assured that the screen isn’t actually going to be there when the test is operational, but it was a powerful demonstration of how the system works. And so, it’s very, very pleasing that we’ve got this $6.5 million study, which the Commonwealth Government is supporting, through what’s called the Australian Government Cooperative Research Centre Project, which is aimed fundamentally at reducing fatal truck crashes in Australia and around the world. And it’s linking, in this study, in-cab driver monitoring technology with external traffic and roadway information.
What’s also I think very interesting, is that we’re looking at the next generation of a technology, where the first generation is already in operation, used by a number of trucking operators in Australia. And of course, with Ron Finemore here, his fleet uses the current generation of this technology and is participating in the trial of this next generation. I hope Ron won’t mind me saying that an accomplished businessman like him is not somebody who spends money on a product if he doesn’t see value. And clearly in the first generation of technology, his business, along with others, has seen value, first of all, in terms of lives saved and injuries avoided, but second of all in the commercial benefit that comes from that – with trucks being off the road for less time, fewer insurance claims and so on.
The other thing I think that’s really exciting about this trial and the business that Seeing Machines has built up, is that there is understandably in the community a lot of anxiety about the role of technology, what it means for employment, what it means for economic activity. And I think this is a fascinating example of the way that technology creates new opportunities. This was a service which could not be delivered even 10 years ago. The technology wasn’t able to do it, but we now have an Australian company at the very forefront in developing and implementing this technology, and of course, using artificial intelligence, using algorithms, to take the data, enormous amounts of data captured, of course, from the camera that’s on the driver continuously, and that all then needs to be decoded, analysed, conclusions drawn. You need to avoid false positives, which very rapidly reduces customer confidence in the effectiveness of the technology, and you need to do all of that to get to the objective, which is safer roads; fewer drivers failing to pay attention, fewer drivers getting distracted, fewer drivers making errors because they’re tired, because they’re falling asleep, because their attention’s been distracted. Fewer drivers falling victim to issues that face all of us as human beings with our, in some ways, deficient, many million-year-old algorithms that we all operate under.
So, we’re using a bit of technology to help and to improve safety. It’s really exciting to see an Australian company in Seeing Machines at the forefront of this work. It’s great to see the collaboration with Monash University – the Monash University Accident Research Centre – and this is something I think we do well in Australia, where we bring together commercial businesses, academic research and of course end users. And so, this is why the Turnbull Government has been very pleased to support this particular trial, looking at the next generation of the technology, seeing how it’s going to work, seeing it deliver even better outcomes. I know that Volvo Trucks Australia is also involved and I commend them.
So, can I close by saying, I’m very, very pleased to see this cooperative work being done, involving a number of stakeholders, using Australian innovation. When I came into the parliament a few years ago, I learnt that one of the things that comes with being a member of parliament, is that you get given a magic power, and that magic power is the power to declare things open or launched. It’s a power that must be used very responsibly and must only be used for good, not evil. And it’s in no way written in the constitution, but it is a power that sits with politicians. And so, on this occasion, I’m very pleased to use that power to declare this important study officially launched.