Driverless cars might soon be coming to a street near you – if you’re lucky enough to live in Western Sydney. The region recently took another leap towards being Australia’s leader in advanced manufacturing with the announcement by the Baird Government of a trial facility for driverless car technology. It will be part of a Smart Innovation Centre at Huntingwood, near Sydney Motor Sport Park, at Eastern Creek. The visionary Centre will be Australia’s first dedicated driverless car trial facility, following in the footsteps of some of the smartest jurisdictions in the world, including California and Singapore. It also stakes Western Sydney’s claim to what could become the next big ‘ideas boom’ industry, worth $42 billion or more by 2025. Developing an innovative new industry around driverless car technology plays to Western Sydney’s widening comparative advantage in advanced manufacturing. Industry-education partnerships such as Western Sydney Future Advanced Manufacturing are leading the transformation, alongside rapid prototyping hubs and research facilities at Western Sydney University. Western Sydney’s advanced manufacturing research and development capabilities are set to expand further with the Werrington Corporate Centre’s Innovation launch pad, and the up-and-coming Sydney Science Park. A youthful workforce in Western Sydney already boasts many of the necessary skills to make the Smart Innovation Centre a success. STEM qualifications in Western Sydney are above the state and national averages and local talent is at the forefront of the innovation game – Western Sydney University engineering graduate Jay Manley is involved in designing the next wave of electric cars for Tesla Motors. Add to this the fact that local transport manufacturers dotted around the West are already getting commercial runs on the international stage. Bankstown based manufacturer Quickstep are producing carbon fibre composites so advanced they sell direct to partners including the US Military, Lockheed Martin, Airbus and Ford. Bryon Group at Smithfield employs 300 globally to produce high-end manufacturing solutions for aviation, emergency and heavy vehicle transport sectors. World leading vehicle service automation technology is being developed for global markets by Nepean Engineering at Narellan, and the Eastern Creek precinct is already the home of one of the most well-established automotive industry clusters in the country. When you combine these advantages with the West’s enduring love for all things on four wheels, just imagine what breakthroughs are around the corner. Equipped with Smart GPS, driverless cars will play a vital role in fixing Sydney’s traffic congestion problems, and eventually they could significantly reduce the tragedy of over 1,000 roads deaths in Australia each year. We’ve obviously all got an interest in the success of this technology. The autonomous vehicle industry is moving fast with some manufacturers expecting to release ‘road ready’ driverless cars to the market as early as 2020/21. NSW has to move fast if we are not only going to catch-up – but lead. Working out the ingredients that drive twenty-first century industrial development and job creation in cities like Sydney is a tricky business. A recent study by world-leading economic geographer Prof Michael Storper found that it was the capacity of metropolitan leaders from both traditional ‘sunset’ and new emerging technology industries to work together and innovate that was critical to the success of San Francisco, home to Silicon Valley and many of the world’s largest high-tech corporations. Collaboration and innovation meant San Francisco pulled well ahead of Los Angeles after 1970 to become the wealthiest major city in America. Similarly, it will be the close collaboration between Western Sydney’s traditional industries, its naturally risk-taking and multicultural local entrepreneurs, research and tech institutions and policymakers that will be the key to unlocking the region’s success. Four actions are required from the Baird Government to foster innovation and secure the success of Western Sydney’s Smart Innovation Centre. Firstly, the road regulators at RMS have to work closely with the innovators to encourage rather than inhibit the new technology. The regulatory environment for road testing needs to be premised on one simple policy objective – if the technology can be proven as safe in a trial environment there should be a clear pipeline to permit local developers to deploy their autonomous vehicles safely and legally on public roads. Secondly, the government should work quickly to invite leading international manufacturers to co-locate R&D teams at Huntingwood to truly achieve a Motoring Centre of Excellence. We are talking about attracting leaders in automotive technology like Tesla, Ford, Toyota, Google, BMW and Mercedes to have a presence at the facility. Thirdly, access to the trial facilities for any global players should be equal with that of local tech developers. As highlighted by Google’s move into the car market has shown, driverless car technology is additive and is as much about the software development as the vehicle’s hardware. This means nimble, local software start-ups will have as good a chance as anyone of creating the next tech break-through. Innovation will be at its best when these companies and university engineering facilities co-locate around a single government supported and world-class trial facility. Finally, the Baird Government needs to use this opportunity to signal to the world that it supports a vibrant future for innovative local manufacturing. This will be led from Western Sydney and driven by smart private and public sector innovators who work together and keep their eyes on the prize.