HMI Technologies and Christchurch International Airport are to conduct the first trials in New Zealand of a fully autonomous vehicle, starting in early 2017.
They will work with University of Canterbury researchers and developers who will help design and undertake the trials. Christchurch City Council will also use the trials to raise awareness of how autonomous vehicles and other technological developments could alter the way cities work. The Ministry of Transport and New Zealand Transport Agency will also be involved.
The University said its Human Interface Technology Laboratory New Zealand (HIT Lab NZ), Geospatial Research Institute (GRI), Wireless Research Centre (WRC) and Spatial Engineering Research Centre (SERC) would “explore the possibilities of how these fully autonomous vehicles could operate in New Zealand.”
The trials will largely be conducted on the Christchurch Airport campus, starting on private roads with no public present, with the long-term aim of moving to public roads once the safety case has been made and all regulatory approvals are in place, according to a statement from Christchurch Airport.
HMI Technologies has bought a French Navya 15-person shuttle for the trial. The vehicle is fully autonomous, has no steering wheel and is electric powered.
The head of HIT Lab NZ, Professor Rob Lindeman, said similar vehicles were already in daily use. “These days, driverless shuttles are common at many international airports to move people between terminals, and people don’t seem to mind, since the shuttles are on closed tracks,” he said. “[But] how well will people accept them when they are on more open roads, such as moving people from the terminal to a satellite parking structure, or moving them from the terminal to the CBD?”
Christchurch Airport’s general manager corporate affairs, Michael Singleton, said the airport’s interest in the trial centred on future plans for linking key areas around the airport campus.
“We hope to eventually see autonomous vehicles operating in and around the airport. Before that could happen, we want to understand the infrastructure and operating requirements for these vehicles, to understand the human/technology interface and to build the safety case for autonomous vehicles on our campus.”
The trial will be overseen by former secretary for transport, Martin Matthews, who said autonomous vehicles would be on the roads sooner than most people expected.
“Many people believe we are years away from seeing these vehicles on our roads, but I disagree. I believe they will be with us very soon, so it’s important we understand what is required for them to operate safely here.”