Trials of autonomous vehicles (AVs) at the Wallenius Wilhelmsen MIRRAT terminal in Melbourne will pave the way for future development at the terminal.

According to MIRRAT’s Jed Smith, the trials are held for two distinct reasons. “As a terminal operator we need to prepare for autonomous cargo, but also to leverage the technology ourselves to improve safety and sustainability in terminal operations. With this in mind we are excited to examine what role AVs can play in the future port environment.”

To test the technology in a real-life scenario and fully evaluate its potential, a challenging route was selected.

An 800-metre looping route was set up in the heart of MIRRAT’s yard, weaving between cargo and sharing the area with operational trucks, forklifts and stevedores. 

The EZ10 driverless shuttle vehicle from EasyMile, one of the world’s leading autonomous vehicle technology specialists, could sense potential hazards such as intersections, or trucks and forklifts moving across its path, and respond accordingly. All ten individual test runs made were completed successfully.

Some hurdles remain 

While the trials were deemed a success, the MIRRAT team took away some key learning points for how the technology could be used in a busy terminal environment of the future.

“The technology in its current configuration is autonomous rather than self-driving. This means that it’s very good at moving along a pre-defined route but if there is an object blocking that path, the vehicle will not navigate around it, it will simply stop and wait for manual intervention,” explains Jed. 

Around five manual validations were required per route, so there is still some way to go.

“In a dynamic environment, such as our yard, this is not optimal, but everyone understands this is going to be a step by step evolution. Starting to build this experience now will be useful for future terminal designs,” Jed adds.

There was also a degree of uncertainty among operational staff on how to interact with the vehicle, but this should improve through education and increased exposure. 

Future terminal design will play a key role in maximizing the benefits of this technology, especially with opportunities to utilize smart, connected infrastructure to enable communication between AVs, other cargo and the vessels.

A popular autonomous trial 

More than 50 people representing government, customers and industry bodies attended the trials, including a demonstration day, which gave the opportunity for a test ride.

The vehicle from EasyMile has already been deployed in 20 countries across Asia-Pacific, Middle-East, North America and Europe.

Toyota, the City of Melbourne, Infrastructure Victoria, Port of Melbourne, Transport Accident Commission (TAC) and Melbourne University were among those represented. 

“With the technology performing well and jumping the first hurdle we will continue to work with EasyMile to learn more about the technology. While this gives us an opportunity to build our knowledge of how to handle these units as future cargo, we have also identified potential operation applications which we will begin to explore and refine,” explains Jed.