First New Zealand autonomous vehicle demonstration kicks off at Christchurch Airport
The future has come to Christchurch in the form of a driverless vehicle.
The first New Zealand trial of a driverless vehicle was announced at Christchurch International Airport on Thursday, where the safety of the technology was emphasised as the technology was demonstrated.
Some safety features even got an unplanned real-world test when a journalist with a camera got a little too close, causing the smart shuttle to make an emergency stop. It did so in a remarkably short distance.
Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel and Transport Minister Simon Bridges were among the lucky few to get on the first ride at the demonstration, where the smart shuttle performed a simple loop on the tarmac before weaving through a narrow corridor of cones.
Dalziel said the significance of attracting the project to Christchurch could not be overstated.
"Autonomous electric vehicles are part of the future and they are coming, ready or not. I'd rather be ready."
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Bridges said while all new things had their sceptics, there was "no doubt" there would be an autonomous future.
HMI Technology are partners in the trial. Chief technology officer Ahmed Hikmet said the vehicle was equipped with many types of sensors, which allowed it to know what was around it to within a "fraction of a millimetre".
Chief executive Stephen Matthews said the trial aimed to build up confidence the technology was safe within a controlled environment.
"I think it has to be safe for us to even contemplate putting it in front of the public."
The smart shuttle, made by French company Navya, can carry up to 10 seated and five standing passengers and is fully electric. It has no steering wheel and is set up so there is no clear front or back. It follows pre-programmed routes which are easily reconfigured.
The shuttle's positioning system is able to detect where it is to within 20mm. A top speed of 50kmh is possible but it will mostly run below 25 kmh. A fully-charged battery can last up to 10 hours, but is more likely to last five or six on flat land with air conditioning going.
The trial is a collaboration between the airport and HMI Technologies, with support from the Christchurch City Council, the University of Canterbury, the NZ Transport Agency and the Ministry of Transport.
It is expected to start in earnest in the first quarter of this year, and will initially be on closed roads around the airport. It is expected members of the public will be able to catch a lift once the technology is demonstrated to be safe. The airport hopes to use the shuttle to run passengers between the terminal and car parking.
It is likely to be more than a year before the smart shuttle is running on public roads.