Christchurch Airport ushers in the driverless era

New Zealand’s first fully autonomous vehicle has arrived at Christchurch Airport

New Zealand’s first fully autonomous vehicle has arrived at Christchurch Airport, marking the start of what the government hopes will be many trials of autonomous vehicles on New Zealand roads.

The Airport announced in October that it would conduct the first trials in New Zealand of a fully autonomous vehicle, starting in early 2017, in conjunction with HMI Technologies and University of Canterbury researchers and developers who would help design and undertake the trials.

The New Zealand Herald reports that the vehicle has arrived and trials, on private roads only, will commence shortly.

When the trial was announced, Graeme Muller, head of NZTech, predicted that hundreds of driverless cars would be on New Zealand roads by end of 2017. He said the government had done a good job of opening up the opportunity for testing the technology in New Zealand, adding “We should set ourselves some stretch goals if we want to lead the world.”

The Ministry of Transport is actively encouraging the trialling of autonomous vehicles on New Zealand roads. It has a web page dedicated to testing autonomous vehicles in New Zealand, where it says: “New Zealand is a great place to test all forms of technology. Among its advantages are: our supportive legislation; the ability to test on public roads; a wide range of climate and road conditions in a relatively small area; an advanced winter testing facility for vehicles – the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground – which is already widely used by vehicle manufacturers for counter-seasonal testing; world-class universities and research centres; the appeal of the New Zealand lifestyle and culture to knowledge workers.”

The Ministry has also produced a guide to testing autonomous vehicles in New Zealand in which it says the Government encourages the testing of semi and fully autonomous vehicles, as well as other intelligent transport systems technologies in New Zealand.

It notes that the Government’s Intelligent Transport Systems Technology Action Plan 2014-18 “recognises the potential improvements to safety and efficiency offered by emerging transport technologies such as autonomous vehicles.”

The plan sets out a programme of work “to promote such technology and ensure that there are no obstacles to its continued deployment.”

The Ministry also participated in a trial of autonomous – but not fully driverless, like the Christchurch Airport trial – vehicles undertaken by Volvo New Zealand in Tauranga late last year.

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