Giving ‘sight’ to driverless cars

There’s been plenty of talk about ‘autonomous vehicles’ and ‘driverless cars’ being part of our future cities.  Recent technological advances indicate that future is not very far away.

One of the biggest challenges at present is to enable driverless cars to better detect, recognise or even ‘see’ road signs, traffic signals, various vehicle types, pedestrians and all the other obstacles that you can encounter in our cities and suburbs.

To date, laser technologies have been developed to help autonomous vehicles detect their surrounding environment.  While lasers are effective in enabling cars to ‘see’, this technology is prohibitively expensive.

Ideally, we want to be able to equip driverless cars with an affordable equivalent of ‘human sight’; which is where CSIRO’s Data61, Dr Nick Barnes and Dr Shaodi You come in.

Above (L-R): CSIRO’s Data61 team members Dr Nick Barnes and Dr Shaodi You. 

“We’re testing similar technology to that used in bionic eyes to see if it can provide the answer for safe navigation of driverless cars,” says Data61 computer vision developer, Nick Barnes.

The team at Data61 is partnering with Chinese self-driving technology company, ZongMu Technology, to equip vehicles with computer vision.

“Computer vision technology allows autonomous vehicles to detect and gauge the difference between roads, pavements and other surfaces as well as seeing what and where things are on the road,” Nick says.

Above: Shaodi You and Nick Barnes explaining computer vision technology to research colleagues.

“Our computer vision work includes developing algorithms to judge the space between the vehicle and other moving and stationary vehicles, objects and potential hazards.”

Through rich 3D image analysis, computer vision provides a much deeper understanding of the roads and urban setting than existing laser technologies.

This research builds on previous work by Data61 to develop the bionic eye that gives sight to the visually impaired through the use of computer vision. Electrodes in the bionic eye enable the recipient to get a sense of distance through the use of electrical signals which intensify as the person gets closer to an obstacle.

“Our technology will allow self-driving cars to rapidly detect and avoid hazards, understand and obey road rules and determine their exact location in relation to other moving vehicles and objects in their environment,” says Shaodi.

Our bionic eye and computer vision technology could be the vital missing ingredients in enabling driverless cars to safely navigate our city streets.

The computer vision-based technologies being developed with ZongMu are expected to cost about one-tenth of current laser technologies, enabling truly autonomous cars to reach market and our streets in a shorter timeframe.

ZongMu’s self-driving technology is already being used by China’s leading car makers.

With the addition of computer vision through the Data61 partnership, we could be seeing self-driving cars with the highest safety standards on the market – and on the streets of Ginninderra before too long.

Ginninderra Project Team: Staff spotlight on Guy Barnett

Urban ecologist Guy Barnett has been leading science activities for the Ginninderra project since 2015 and shares a vision for a unique urban development in the national capital.

Since joining CSIRO more than 20 years ago, Guy has been involved in many different areas of environmental, urban and ecological science. He is a Principal Research Consultant with CSIRO Land and Water.

“I’ve worked on science and solutions in areas ranging from mine rehabilitation, ecological impact assessments, to urban heat islands and climate adaptation in our cities and urban environments,” says Guy.

As an urban ecologist, Guy is focussed on the connections and inter-relationships between living and non-living things in cities and a range of urban contexts.

“I’m particularly interested in how we can design and build urban environments that promote biodiversity and healthy ecosystem function while providing great places for people to live. That’s why I was interested in the Ginninderra project and joined the team three years ago.”

Since that time Guy has been leading the science for Ginninderra including managing ecological surveys and studies, grassland recovery trials and woodland restoration work as well as engaging with scientists from across CSIRO who have ideas and innovations to contribute.

“CSIRO conducts a wide range of science that is highly relevant and applicable to creating more liveable, sustainable and resilient cities. It’s that breadth of science that we are bringing together in our science planning for Ginninderra that will set Ginninderra apart from what’s been done before.”

“My vision is that science, and the benefits from it, would be visible and part of everyday life at Ginninderra. So far, we have been actively working with the community and community groups to get people involved in the science and the vision, whether it be woodland and grassland recovery activities or monitoring water quality.”

Science in action within a real urban environment is part of CSIRO’s broader vision for future cities.

“Our aspiration for Ginninderra is that it would be a key site among a number of different urban settings across Australia where we can design, test and create cities of the future. We are encouraging the community and future residents to play an active role in that by bringing ideas and getting involved in the various steps along the way.”

“With Ginninderra we have an opportunity to create a place that is unique, special and where science is playing a visible role in positive and healthy outcomes for people and the environment.”

Project update – February

Let’s continue the conversation

CSIRO greatly appreciates the community interest in, and input to, the Ginninderra project. Since we undertook our first community drop-in sessions in 2015, we’ve heard many ideas from local residents and community groups that have helped shape the vision for Ginninderra. We remain committed to community engagement and furthering the conversation in 2018, and look forward to connecting with you again at future community events.

Already in 2018, we have had meetings and conversations with local residents about traffic issues. These traffic concerns are current and well documented, yet they are something we are keen to hear about as we start to consider the next stages of planning for Ginninderra.

Since announcing the project in 2015, we’ve invited conversations about how a new community could complement and add value to surrounding suburbs and residents.  We look forward to providing an update to the Village of Hall and District Progress Association on 21 February, and others like it during the year.

Focus on science planning

Science and innovation are a key part of the vision to transform Ginninderra into a benchmark-setting sustainable urban community. Our research teams have been working to identify and shortlist ideas, applications, technologies and systems to be trialed or introduced at Ginninderra. We crowd-sourced almost 100 ideas for urban innovation from across CSIRO in early 2016, and are working through these ideas as part of our ongoing science planning process.

Watch this space – Community Planting Days are on again in May

Last year, more than 100 members of the local community, Green Army and Indigenous Green Army came together to plant 3,500 shrubs, to help restore the Grassy Box Gum Woodlands at Ginninderra. The success of the day has paved the way for future community planting days, with the next one planned for May 2018. Details to follow in next month’s update.

If you would like to know more about the Ginninderra Project, visit: or email us at If you are part of a community group or organisation that would like to hear more from CSIRO about the Ginninderra Project or to be given an update, then please get in contact with us.

Charging our battery-powered revolution

Technological advances and our quest for reliable low emissions energy, places us on the verge of a battery-storage revolution, and our scientists are at the leading edge.

At CSIRO, we’ve been working on batteries for a very long time and innovations like our UltraBattery are part of that story.

Above: UltraBattery at CSIRO’s Centre for Hybrid Energy Systems.

Batteries of all sizes are commonplace in a wide range of applications from household devices and toys, to cars and commercial systems the size of several shipping containers. There are lithium, lead-acid, nickel-metal-hydride, and vanadium-based flow batteries.

“Batteries provide power where or when we otherwise might not be able to find it,” says CSIRO’s Dr Sam Behrens. “Batteries complement solar and wind energy systems by providing power when the sun isn’t shining, or the wind isn’t blowing. Battery systems also provide a host of services that can make the grid more reliable and lower costs for consumers.”

In the quest for low emissions energy from renewable sources such as solar and wind; viable and affordable battery storage has been a vital missing link – before now!

“Technological advances are making battery storage a cheaper and more viable proposition and this trend is expected to continue,” says Sam.

“At our Newcastle Energy Centre, we are testing and evaluating a variety of different battery storage systems in the Stored Energy Integration Facility.”

You can see more by taking the Stored Energy Integration Facility Virtual Tour.

Above: CSIRO’s Stored Energy Integration Facility: real-life testing of energy storage technologies from CSIRO on Vimeo.

The facility tests energy and storage hardware in a controlled environment so clients can find out how energy is being used, and how cost and energy savings can be maximised. The facility contains 900kWh of energy (in standard and advanced lead-acid systems and lithium), which can provide 280kW of power to supply site loads, manage variable power or export to the grid.

Above: CSIRO’s Renewable Energy Integration Facility is helping to develop new grid management technologies.

Benefits to our cities

Australia stands to benefit significantly from the application of battery storage systems in our homes, buildings and cities.

The Energy Network Transformation Roadmap prepared by CSIRO and Energy Networks Australia, outlines a national plan to keep the lights on, make sure bills are affordable, and decarbonise our electricity industry by mid-century.

It sets out measures that could save households an estimated $414 a year on average, by generating their own electricity through ‘distributed’ technologies such as solar panels and batteries. It envisages that Australia could save a total of A$101 billion by 2050, while also bringing net greenhouse emissions to zero.

In practical terms, for a sustainable urban development like Ginninderra, there is the opportunity to trial or use battery storage as a core part of a complete household energy system.

We’ve been working with industry collaborators, Evergen, to develop and improve such systems as pictured below.  The main components of systems already on the market are pictured in the diagram, and include:

  1. Integrated solar PV and battery hardware in the home collects and stores power from solar panels and from the grid
  2. A smart system monitors, predicts energy use and solar production based on the weather and chooses lowest cost energy supply from the available sources
  3. Monitoring and improvement – CSIRO provides analysis to improve customers’ system performance


Above: Complete home energy system. Image source: Evergen