In the first on-road research trials in New Zealand, the fully autonomous, electric-powered Smart Shuttle, which can carry up to 15 people, will run on private roads on the airport campus.
The driverless vehicle trial is being conducted in partnership with HMI Technologies, a New Zealand-based Intelligent Transport System provider.
“Autonomous electric vehicles are part of our future,” said Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel. “They are coming ready or not and I'd rather be ready.
“Christchurch has become a city of opportunity … a place where anything is possible. The significance of attracting this project to Christchurch at this time cannot be over-stated. This is an incredibly exciting time in our history.”
The Christchurch Airport team is interested in learning how autonomous shuttles might operate at the airport and how people may react and interact with the vehicles.
“We can see the potential for driverless vehicles to transform and enhance mobility and transport options on the airport campus,” said Christchurch Airport Chief Executive Malcolm Johns.
“We want to explore the possibility of deploying autonomous vehicles to assist people moving around our campus efficiently and sustainably, so we formed a partnership with HMI Technologies to consider how we might make this happen.”
Proving the efficacy of autonomous vehicles
According to Dave Verma, HMI's Director of Australasian Driverless Vehicle Technologies, the company is involved in the vehicle trial for three key reasons.
“Firstly as an intelligent transport systems innovator, our R&D and business development teams will get vital hands-on experience,” said Verma.
“We also hope the trial will prove the efficacy of autonomous vehicles to commercial operators like Christchurch Airport, and to government decision makers.
“Additionally we want the New Zealand public and students to have the opportunity to participate and provide feedback on the experience.”
Given the pace at which autonomous vehicle technology is developing, HMI also believes that there are opportunities for New Zealand to be “at the forefront of this technology”, said Verma.
One of the objectives of the trial will be to develop information that supports and demonstrates the safety of autonomous vehicles, both for use at the airport and throughout New Zealand, according to the partners.