WELLINGTON, Oct. 4 — Air travellers in New Zealand's second city of Christchurch could be the first passengers in the country's first driverless vehicle service.
The government announced Tuesday that the first New Zealand trials of a fully autonomous vehicle would begin at Christchurch airport early next year.
The trials would largely be conducted at Christchurch Airport, starting on private roads with no public present, with the long-term aim of moving to public roads once the safety case had been made and all regulatory approvals were in place, said airport officials.
The trial was being carried out with HMI Technologies, which had bought a French Navya 15-person shuttle that had no steering wheel and was electric powered.
The airport was considering future plans to link key areas around the airport campus, general manager corporate affairs Michael Singleton said in a statement.
"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," said Singleton.
University of Canterbury researchers, who would design and undertake the trials, said the trials were aimed at demystifying the technology for the public.
"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," Professor Rob Lindeman said in a statement.
"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 (central business district)?" Lindeman asked.
"By including the public at each step of the roll-out this trial has the potential to raise the level of acceptance and success of this and similar projects in New Zealand, and gives deep insights beyond our borders to others looking to introduce autonomous electric vehicles."
Transport Minister Simon Bridges said the trials would provide invaluable information about the vehicle and its potential for use in different New Zealand environments.
"Autonomous vehicles are an important part of the future of transport and offer potential safety, efficiency and environmental benefits. It's exciting to see a New Zealand-initiated trial where the skills and knowledge about managing and deploying the technology will transfer to New Zealanders," Bridges said in a statement.
The government's New Zealand Transport Agency and the Ministry of Transport would also be working on the project. (PNA/Xinhua)